Re: Homo erectus

Ralph L Holloway (
Wed, 28 Jun 1995 23:41:50 -0400

Alex Duncan asks me to comment on the brain of Homo erectus
regarding language. OK. There is nothing in the size of the brain
endocasts going from roughly 750 to about 1200 (Chinese) that precludes
language capacity. Remember that even some modern human microcephalics with
brain sizes
that some gorillas might sneer at are capable of language, limited though
it might be. There is no way of looking at the morphology of the brain
endocasts and say with any certainty that yes, the Broca's area is modern
human-like, and there is a 'nice' Wernicke's area, because these regions
are not delimited by visible gyri and sulci on the endocasts, although
some of the Homo erectus endocasts show a fair amount of detail.
Similarly, there is no visible lunate sulcus, so one cannot be absolutely
certain that the inferior and posterior parietal lobes were expanded in a
relative sense beyond either pongids or australopithecines. I suspect
that they were, but "proof" eludes us all. The 3rd inferior frontal
convolution, where one finds Broca's region are fully developed and not
"primiitive" in appearance, and since we have a nice looking one in
KNM-ER 1470 as well as 3883 and 3733, it would be far-fetched to claim
that H. erectus was lacking them. Along with stone tools made to
standardized patterns, it all suggests to me that they would have been
capable of some primitive language, using arbitrary symbols. As for their
throats and sound production, this isn't my area of expertise, but I tend
to believe that even if they didn't have a fully modern laryngeal
morphology, they could still make enough sounds to have language. In
short, nothing I see in the brain endocasts rules out language. Chaio.
Ralph Holloway.