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10 Extinct Hominids

        Science | Paleontology

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Homo Heidelbergensis
This hominid is likely our first cold-climate-dwelling ancestor. Felix Ordonez/Reuters/Corbis
This hominid is likely our first cold-climate-dwelling ancestor. Felix Ordonez/Reuters/Corbis

Having lived in Europe 600,000 to 200,000 years ago (during the Middle Pleistocene era), Homo heidelbergensis was likely the first hominid species to have lived in a cold climate. To thrive in such an environment necessitated several momentous innovations. This included building shelters: In France, evidence of postholes dates back 400,000 years.

They also probably mastered fire: In Israel, evidence of burnt wood and tools forged in fire date to 790,000 years ago [source: Smithsonian]. Evidence of various sturdy tools and large butchered animal remains suggests that heidelbergensis was also an adept hunter.

This species got its name because it was first found near Heidelberg, Germany, in 1907. Since then, archaeologists have discovered a nearly complete skeleton including a skull that housed a large brain within the range of modern human size. The pelvis is slightly wide, prompting the nickname "Elvis." Indeed, heidelbergensis shares many similarities with modern humans, and the exceptions are often closer to the fossils of Neanderthals, suggesting this species might be our common ancestor [source: Roberts].