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Should we be lumpers or splitters over our hominid ancestors?

with 4 comments

D4500 on the right

D4500 on the right

As I’m overwhelmed and a bit stressed by work issues, I’ve not posted here for a while, or to be precise I’ve got three or four posts going which I’ve not been able to finish. So I’ve decided to throw something down and push it out today no matter what.

A fascinating post on the John Hawks blog, alerted to me by Butterflies and Wheels. He goes into much detail on an issue that has fascinated me, in my dilettantish way. My general reading on human ancestry, which turned up names such as Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, Homo rudolfensis, Homo heidelbergensis et al, together with the information that the remains of these hominids or hominins were scanty and their precise identities disputed, made me wonder from my distant armchair whether they all represented different species or just variants of the one. Of course I have no expertise at all, and I don’t know the difference between a species and a subspecies, but my reading did make me aware that this was a genuine issue amongst paleoanthropologists.

The Hawks post, which takes its departure from a paper published on a recently revealed specimen of Homo erectus, goes into some detail on all this. The cranial specimen, D4500, from Dmanisi in Georgia, is the best-preserved of any so far discovered. The writers of the paper take the opportunity to put forward the view that the early Homo finds, such as D4500 and remains from the Malapa fossil site in South Africa, and by inference a number of others, represent a single lineage, a view with which Hawks largely concurs. So there, I told you so.

Of course Hawks goes into a lot of detail, and expresses his views with the diffidence we generally find in true scientists, but I’m delighted to find my vague sense of things so thoroughly supported. i must be a lumper, but of course I’m prepared to change my mind at the slightest change in the winds of research. Now I just need to work out where all those Australopithecines fit into the general picture, without moving too far from my armchair, of course.

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Written by stewart henderson

November 4, 2013 at 4:26 pm

4 Responses

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  1. This field is much more fun to follow from an armchair, I agree! Consider this a changing of the winds: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0088212
    Or perhaps it is just better viewed as an opposing gust!

    thereviewer

    March 4, 2014 at 6:28 am


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