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hyenas & homo erectus

When you're studying human evolution (AS 90719), one of the fossil hominins you'll learn about is Homo erectus. These days this designation includes fossils that were placed in separate taxa, such as H. pekinensis ("Peking man") & "Java man" (named Pithecanthropus erectus by its discoverer, Eugene Dubois, but now recognised as the first H.erectus fossil to be described).

The "Peking" remains were found at a place called Dragon Bone Hill (Zhoukoudian), & while most of the fossils were lost during World War II, casts of the bones survived. One of the notable things about these remains is how fragmentary they are. Most of the fossils are bits & pieces of crania, with some long bones. And most of them show evidence of trauma - skulls cracked with great force, for example.

How did they get that way, & what does this tell us about the lives of these hominins? Brian Switek has just written a great post on this, explaining how interpretations of the Zhoukoudian remains have changed over time. And the role of what sounds like a very nasty hyaena indeed!

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