Homo erectus

Bruner et al (Quaternary International 2014)Despite most than one century of studies, the taxonomic and phylogenetic status of Homo erectus is still largely debated. There is no agreement whether or not the African and Asian specimens belong to the same species, or on the meaning of the variation within the Asian group. The relevant influence of a shared allometric component, the large geographic and chronological span, the marked individual and idiosyncratic variability and (most important) the small sample size, hamper any definitive conclusion. Because of all these actual limits, we should seriously consider if our insistence in searching fixed and stable taxonomic certainties represents a necessary and useful effort. Because of these limits, probably paleoanthropology should rely on a different approach to taxonomy, more centred on the actual information available than on hypothetical and conceptual schemes. In the meanwhile, this week we  publish a general review on Homo erectus paleoneurology. We describe the general morphology of the African and Asian Homo erectus endocasts, providing a quantitative perspective of their variation and variability by means of traditional endocranial metrics. As expected, no patent differences are evidenced among different geographic groups, being size and allometry the main source of variation. Of course, the absence of morphological differences in the endocasts does not necessarily means the absence of differences in brain organization, and it does not give information on the underlying taxonomical structure. The limits of the sample size are evident: a power analysis suggests that, beyond the issue of biological representativeness, for a simple variable like cranial capacity groups of at least 40 specimens would be necessary to deal with the statistical uncertainties! Nonetheless we can now state that, at least according to the current metric information, all the possible taxa included in the Homo erectus hypodigm share similar endocranial proportions.

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