“Oceans were never a barrier to the travels of Erectus. He travelled all over the world, travelled to the island of Flores, across one of the greatest ocean currents in the world,” said Daniel Everett, professor of global studies at Bentley University, and author of How Language Began. “They sailed to the island of Crete and various other islands. It was intentional: they needed craft and they needed to take groups of twenty or so at least to get to those places.”It is pretty clear that Homo erectus hunted, at least in some fashion, could control fire and evidence seems to be accumulating that they hafted spears and, at least late in the range, the European variant set up rudimentary complex settlements.
While Everett is not the first to raise the controversial possibility that H. erectus might have fashioned some sort of seagoing vessel, he believes that such capabilities mean that H. erectus must also have had another skill: language.
“Erectus needed language when they were sailing to the island of Flores. They couldn’t have simply caught a ride on a floating log because then they would have been washed out to sea when they hit the current,” said Everett, presenting his thesis at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin. “They needed to be able to paddle. And if they paddled they needed to be able to say ‘paddle there’ or ‘don’t paddle.’ You need communication with symbols not just grunts.”
There is, naturally, skepticism that any hominin form prior to Neandertals were sea-going:
But others say that there is little evidence that H. erectus was a sophisticated seafarer, let alone had a language. “I don’t accept that, for example, [Homo] erectus must have had boats to get to Flores,” said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. “Tsunamis could have moved early humans on rafts of vegetation.”Before dismissing that idea out of hand, remember that it is the best one going to explain how the New World Monkeys got where they are, since Africa and South America had parted ways some 180 million years prior to their arrival.
I think there is likely not enough evidence to know one way or another if Homo erectus could sail the high seas and had speech, although the only skeletal evidence that we have for that part of the anatomy suggests not.