Solo River

Trinil is the type site of Pithecanthropus (now Homo erectus) and the best known of all of the Indonesian hominin localities. Between 1891-1894 the Dutch anatomist Eugene Dubois excavated on the banks of the Solo River, close to the village of Trinil. After Dubois returned to the Netherlands, the excavation’s were continued by his assistants until 1900. Hundreds of vertebrate fossils were recovered and these were housed in the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie, Leiden, the Netherlands, and are known as the Trinil H.K. Fauna. Recent palaeoenvironmental reconstruction from these fauna concluded that the site contained a mix of open savannah, densely covered river valley and upland forest species. As the river deposits may contain water-born bones from a wide catchment, it is not certain to what extent the environmental reconstruction pertains to the area adjacent to where the hominin fossils were excavated.

The excavation site was an exposure (eroded section) of river formed deposits on the bank of the Solo River and appears to be derived from the Trinil beds of the Bapang Formation. Initially dated by K/Ar to 500 ka, the hominin deposits are now thought to be in the range of 700 ka – 1 Ma. A third molar (Trinil 1) and calotte (Trinil 2) were discovered in 1891, and a femur (Trinil 3) in 1892.  Later two isolated teeth and femur shaft fragments were also found (Trinil 4-9). Based on estimated brain size and overall shape Dubois recognised the calotte as being from a hominin, and he thought that the femur was probably associated with it. Based on the similarities between the Trinil femur, and those of modern humans, Dubois was certain that the hominin was a habitual biped, giving it the name Pithecanthropus erectus. Dubois published a brief description of the calotte in 1894 and the femur in 1893. There have always been doubts about the contemporaneity of the femur and skull cap (Day and Molleson, 1973). Kennedy’s (1983) examination of femur anatomy in H. erectus, emphasised the similarity between the modern human femora and Trinil 3. Although Trinil 2 is relatively small (adult female?), statistical and morphological comparisons emphasise similarities with the other Indonesian examples of Homo erectus (Santa Luca, 1980; Rightmire, 1990; Anton, 2003)


Trinil lateral 1 Trinil lateral 2
Trinil 2 Trinil 2
Trinil base
Trinil superior
Trinil 2 Trinil 2

Copyright Peter Brown 1990.

Trinil 3 femur
Trinil 3 femur with pathology on the shaft below the femur neck. This irregular calcification (myositis ossificans) is probably due to the formation of woven bone within a traumaticaly induced haematoma in the adductor muscle.


floresiensis and erectu data craniometric data for LB1 H. floresiensis, H. erectus and H. habilis

Recent research and media coverage

Joordens, J., et al., 2015. Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving. Nature 518: 228-231.



Anton, S.C., 2003. Natural history of Homo erectus, Yearb. phys. Anthrop., pp. 126-169.

Day, M.H., Molleson, T.H., 1973. The Trinil femora, in: Day, M.H. (Ed.), Human evolution. Francis, London, pp. 127-154.

Dubois, E., 1894. Pithecanthropus erectus, eine Menschenaehnliche Ubergangsform aus Java. Landersdrucherei, Batavia.

Dubois, E., 1924. On the principal characters of the cranium and the brain, the mandible and the teeth of Pithecanthropus erectus. Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam 27, 265-278.

Dubois, E., 1926. On the principal characters of the femur of Pithecanthropus. Proceedings of the Royal Academy Amsterdam 29, 730-743.

Kennedy, G.E., 1983. Some aspects of femoral morphology in Homo erectus. Journal Human Evolution 12, 587-616.

Rightmire, G.P., 1990. The evolution of Homo erectus: comparative anatomical studies of an extinct human species. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Santa Luca, A.P., 1980. The Ngandong Fossil Hominids. Department of Anthropology Yale University, New Haven.

Weidenreich, F., 1951. Morphology of Solo Man. Anthrop. Pap. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 43, 205-290.

Weinand, D.C., 2006. A reevaluation of the paleoenvironmental reconstructions associated with Homo erectus from Java, Indonesia, based on the functional morphology of fossil bovid astragali. Ph.D. thesis,The University of Tennessee, p. 256.

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