The new fossil skull from Dmanisi published this week on Science adds again more questions than answers. The specimens from this site, dated to 1.8 My, display a considerable degree of variation, at the same time showing some resemblance with Homo ergaster, H. erectus, H. habilis, and even with the genus Australopithecus. This last individual has massive facial structures, with a very small cranial capacity which even clashes with the common ranges associated with the human genus. Assuming that all the skulls from Dmanisi are members of the same species, and assuming that morphology is a good indicator for the specie level, the variation at Dmanisi is such that we could lump most of those cited taxa into a single and heterogeneous group. But, of course, there is no reason to think they represent a single species. Most of all, we already know that morphology can be a very bad source of information on species identity. So, why do we paleontologists insist to define species if we know that it is but a meagre speculation? We can put it in nice colours, appealing statistics, and pretty doll-like nicknames. But it is still a personal opinion, not an analytical solution. Of course, we have to call the attention of the media, that’s a good point. But this way paleoanthropology will never be a robust scientific field. If every descriptive study will be associated with firm, striking, and unverifiable statements, we will keep on swinging from one breaking announcement to another, without a solid development of the field. Maybe we have to change a bit the perspective, or even the aims. And maybe we have to focus more on biology and anatomy, their functions, meaning, and evolution, more than keeping on naming rocks.
apes Atapuerca Australopithecus brain-artefact interface brain atlas brain biology braincase brain size brain thermoregulation CENIEH Cercopithecoids chimpanzee China cognitive archaeology corpus callosum cortical folding cortical surface cranial thickness diploic channels eLearning embodiment encephalization endocranial ontogeny endocranial volume evo-devo extended mind fossil endocasts Frederick Coolidge frontal bone frontal lobes functional craniology geometric morphometrics hemispheric asymmetries Holocene Homo erectus human ethology human genus intraparietal sulcus Konrad Lorenz Institute language Le Moustier macaque Malu Cave mammals metopic suture Mezmaiskaya modern humans myopia Neandertals occipital lobes orbits paleoneurology Pan paniscus Pan troglodytes parietal bone parietal lobes petalia Philipp Gunz Phillip Tobias photography precuneus primate brain sexual dimorphism shape analysis Simon Neubauer social primatology species concept subparietal sulcus sulcal patterns sulci symbolic thinking Taung child University of Colorado University of Liverpool visuospatial integration
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