Neanderthals are thought to have died out a mere 30,000 years ago, and the human genome has been unraveled to the point where it's now apparent that most non-African peoples have between one and four percent Neanderthal ancestry.
The word "Neanderthal" has been used as an insulting term for someone who is brutish, unintelligent, and boorish. In certain circles, it was used as an epithet for paleoconservatives.
If you saw him walking down the street in New York City -- dressed a little differently -- you might just think he was a wrestler from (the country of) Georgia, like Eldar Kurtanidze:
In any case, "Neanderthal" is no longer a dirty word, and Neanderthal ancestry is even a point of pride to some.
It seems likely that sooner or later some well-preserved, analyzable piece of Erectus DNA will be found and we can solve the mystery of how many erectus genes have survived to the present day, and in which populations. If so, it certainly seems possible that Homo Erectus may undergo a similar image makeover, and that people will take pride in their Erectus ancestry.
The term "homo erectus" has long been used as a joke by those who go for obvious puns; there is even a gay dance troupe with that name now. But he should probably be rehabilitated as well. And in the meantime, let's hope his name will not be used as an epithet.
As with Neanderthal man, if you saw these specimens walking down the street in New York City, would you be all that taken aback? Would you think them less than human? Here's Homo heidelbergensis, who lived in Africa, Europe, and western Asia from roughly 800,000 to 200,000 years ago:
(You'd probably think, "Hmm, a funky street preacher.")
Or you might think he was a street fighter, like Kimbo Slice:
Or this fellow, Homo erectus:
("Uh-oh, I hope that homeless guy isn't going to ask me for spare change.")
Or this representation of Homo erectus:
("Wow, he looks like he could be on the Knicks.")
Bear in mind that Homo erectus is supposed to have died out a mere 70,000 years ago, which in the context of roughly four million years of human evolution is a mere blink of an eye. Neanderthal DNA made its way into certain populations; is it not possible that erectus DNA has done the same?
Anyway, the next time some liberal scoffs at conservatives for not believing in evolution, point him this way. Say, "No, no, not at all. I'm conservative and I'm a big believer in evolution. In fact, I find it fascinating, and I think we should study all of our primitive ancestors to see what they can teach us about ourselves. Take a look at these pictures for example….."