Sunday, 30 August 2015

Defining the genus Homo

Reconstruction of Homo erectus georgicus by √Člisabeth Daynes
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia Commons
A thought provoking essay in the current issue of Science (here) asserts definitions of the genus Homo and the species assigned to it remain "as fuzzy as ever." They drive home their point by showing, on the one hand, specimens attributed to Homo with australopithecine features and, on the other, australopithecine fossils with features hitherto claimed to be confined to Homo.

This is a brief but instructive read. The take home message is that hominid systematics needs to be rethought. In the process we may need to scrap "the iconic list of names in which fossil specimens have historically been trapped."

Cover of Third Edition 1956
One name that may have to go is Homo habilis (previous post), the handy man. Louis Leakey, it is suggested, was keen (perhaps too keen) to identify this fossil as the maker of simple tools following the dictum of Man the Toolmaker. It was a pleasant surprise to find Kenneth P. Oakley's booklet cited as an influence on previous and current thinking. My well thumbed copy dates from my schooldays.

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