Homo habilis

30 Aug 2015

This is a piece of tweaking the nose of the Leakey's - those avid finders of fossil humans in the African Rift Valley - see http://phys.org/print359961527.html

In the journal Science (Aug 28th. 2015) Jeffrey Schwartz has blown a breath of fresh air into what he calls a narrow view into what is a complex evolutionary tree of humanity. He goes so far as to say the boundaries of the species and of the genus is quite fuzzy as fossil finds have been haphazardly assigned to Homo with minimum attention to the morphology. The form and structure of hominids is too often ignored in deference to theory - and how many times do we hear that. Objectivity is ignored Schwartz continues, in what seems to be consensus in a tangle once again.

Schwartz cites the 1960 Leakey discovery of 1.8 million years old fossils in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. They claimed the fossils represented a new species, homo habilis. Schwartz says there was scant morphological justification for including any of this ancient material in the Homo line. The main motivation behind the Leakeys was a desire to associate the bones with what they considered to be simple stone tools. As a result of this the Leakeys broadened the morphology of the genus so that other hominid remains from other sites were quickly shoe horned into it without regard for their physical appearance. As a result the largely unexamined definition of Homo became somewhat murky - and one is left wondering why other anthropologists haven't expressed reservations - or have they?

Schwartz goes on to say that anthropologists must approach their science in a more systematic fashion in order to properly understand the evolutionary past that led up to humanity as we recognise it. In other words, as a result of strong personalities the science as been skewed - and nobody has called them out (possibly in fear of being called a Creationist, or something like that). It may be worth getting another angle on this story. I will do a little sleuthing.

See for example www.johnhawks.net/weblog/fossils/habilis/leakey-habilis-non-intermediate... ... which sets the sceneray. Was Homo habilis a go between Australopithicus (ape like) and Homo erectus (the first human) - which apparently is not settled 50 years later.