Re: Homo heidelbergensis

Joerg Rhiemeier (
9 Aug 1995 10:03:43 GMT

In article <>, Gerrit Hanenburg ( wrote:
>In "The Fossil Trail",Ian Tattersall proposes to assign specimens such as
>those from Kabwe,Bodo,Petralona and Arago their own species name:Homo
>heidelbergensis.These specimens were formerly known as "archaic Homo
>sapiens".Archaic H.sapiens is an informal category and has been something of
>a "trashcan" in which to put everything that didn't fit nicely in any other
>category.(H.erectus ,H.s.neanderthalensis,H.s.sapiens) He also suggests to
>refer to the Neanderthals as H.neanderthalensis and to modern humans as
>He justifies this by saying:"...if various groups of fossils are distinct
>enough to be identified by name,you can be pretty sure that you have at least
>as many species as you have names".(Tattersall,1995)
>(refering to such informal names as "Neanderthals","archaic H.sapiens" and
>"anatomically modern H.sapiens")
>I have a certain sympathy for this "clean up",but I'm not so sure about the
>Any other opinions or objections? (on cladistic grounds maybe?)

There is no unmistakable evidence for anatomically modern H. sapiens and
Neanderthals to have cross-bred. In effect, genetic evidence speaks
against it. Some weird skeleton parts have been
interpreted this way, but this is not universally accepted (perhaps
they are pathological), and if there have been modern/Neanderthal
bastards, they apparently did either not reproduce (which could mean
that they were as imfertile as mules) or their line died out (perhaps
due to genetic compatibility problems?). In both cases, this would
mean that they were different species. However, the barrier between
both groups might have been different in nature. It is still
unresolved whether the Neanderthals had language or not. If they
hadn't, this would have constituted a barrier high enough to prevent
both groups from crossbreeding (after all, even if you lived
in stone age, would *you* marry a creature which couldn't even talk,
but only produce animalic grunts?). It is not even certain that
Neanderthals thought like humans at all. Evidence for
religiously-motivated burials have recently been pulled into doubt,
and we have no hints of Neanderthal artwork. Thus, it is not clear
whether one can speak of Neanderthal culture. Sure, they used tools,
and even fire, but was it really the outcome of creative thinking, or
just instincts? If it were just instincts, this would also justify
classifying Neanderthal and modern human as different species, even if
they were genetically compatible.

And it is the same (perhaps even more) with the archaics of East Asia.

But if we put modern H. sapiens and Neanderthals into different
species, we can no longer lump the `archaic H. sapiens' into H.
sapiens, but have to consider them to be another species.

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