early men learned to make fire!
It took man another 200,000 years to grow up. Homo erectus man was about the same size as modern humans, although they only had two-thirds the size of our brains. Their tool-making skills were considerably improved. Their weapons included stone axes and knives. Homo erectus man was probably the first hunter.
Very importantly, Homo erectus man had fire-making skills. Like all new, major inventions, this discovery changed life dramatically.
Why was the ability to able to make fire so important? As man had already discovered, most animals were afraid of fire, so a roaring campfire gave protection to the group or tribe. They no longer had to shelter out of the wind, unless they chose to do so. If their fire went out, they could relight it. They could choose where they camped. On a hot night, if they could find a relatively safe place, a breeze might feel good. Control of fire made moving into colder regions possible, as fire they could count on, would provide them with warmth. It also changed the way they prepared food.
These people began to cook their food, consistently. Food that is cooked is more secure from disease and much softer to eat. As a result, it would have been easier for the young and the old to survive.
The Homo erectus species was the first to look like....people, because their teeth and jaws were shaped somewhat like ours our today. You might think this change in appearance happened over time, because they cooked their food. But, according to Anthropologist, Dr. John J. Shea, that's not true at all. Dr. Shea told us: "The reduction of teeth and jaws due to cooking is a popular idea, but not evolutionarily plausible. If you relax selective pressure for massive jaws--say by cooking food--you get greater variability, not reduced robusticity. Jaw reduction probably had something to do with changes in respiration, maybe speech." (In other words, nah...they looked far more like people do today, because that's how they looked!)
Thanks to their fire-making skills, a nightly campfire became a possibility and a routine. What was once comfort and safety, was now also a social occasion. People would collect around the fire each night, to share stories of the day's hunt and activities, to laugh, and to relax.
About one million years ago, these people began to slowly leave Africa, and travel to other continents. They did not need a boat. The Ice Age was here! There were natural bridges of solid, frozen ice and land, that allowed them to travel over what would later be vast rivers and seas. (It's not like they got up one morning and said: "Here's our chance! Let's check out the rest of the world.") For a very long time, the earth was frozen, creating giant walkways. Some of these walkways were a hundred miles wide! These early people wandered from Africa to Europe and Asia, and from Asia to America, probably in search of food.
How do we know so much about Homo Erectus? Like the discovery of Lucy, scientists found another skeleton near Peking, China, that dates to this period. This skeleton is referred to as the "Peking Man". Artifacts have also been found of their tools and weapons, which help us to understand how they lived, where they went, and how they got there.