Homo heidelbergensis – also Homo rhodesiensis – is an extinct species of the genus Homo that lived in Africa, Europe and western Asia between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago.
The skulls of this species share features with both Homo erectus and anatomically modern Homo sapiens; its brain was nearly as large as that of Homo sapiens. Although the first discovery – a mandible – was made in 1907 near Heidelberg in Germany where it was described and named by Otto Schoetensack, "the great majority of fossils attributed to Homo heidelbergensis have [only] been obtained recently, beginning in 1997." The Sima de los Huesos cave at Atapuerca in northern Spain holds particularly rich layers of deposits that "represent an exceptional reserve of data" where excavations are still in progress.
Neanderthals, Denisovans, and modern humans are all considered to have descended from Homo heidelbergensis that appeared around 700,000 years ago in Africa. Fossils have been recovered in Ethiopia, Namibia and South Africa. Between 300,000 and 400,000 years ago a group of Homo heidelbergensis migrated into Europe and West Asia via yet unknown routes and eventually evolved into Neanderthals. Archaeological sites exist in Spain, Italy, France, England, Germany, Hungary and Greece. Another Homo heidelbergensis group ventured eastwards into continental Asia, eventually developing into Denisovans. The African Homo heidelbergensis (Homo rhodesiensis) population evolved into Homo sapiens approximately 130,000 years ago, then migrated into Europe and Asia in a second wave at some point between 125,000 and 60,000 years ago.
The correct assignment of many fossils to a particular chronospecies is difficult and often controversies ensue among paleoanthropologists due to the absence of universally accepted dividing lines (autapomorphies) between Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals. Some researchers suggest that the finds associated to Homo heidelbergensis are mere variants of Homo erectus.