Re: New Topic of Discussion

Phil Nicholls (
1 Feb 1995 12:59:09 GMT

In article <>,
Jonathan E. Feinstein <> wrote:
>In article <>, (Skiman) writes:


> Well, you got a few good points there. One thing you got to
>remember is that as a group, physical anthropologists are a bunch
>of hot-heads. And once there's a split between any two the split
>just seems to grow and grow. There are very few reconciliations.
>When I knew Don, lo these many years, he was best buddies with
>Richard Leakey (Don's one real weakness as a lecturer was that he
>tend to mention his colleagues by their first names only, so by the
>end of my first semester with him, I had to be on a wierd sort of
>first-name basis with Louis, Mary, Richard, Clark and a host of
>others I've never actually met or even corresponded with). However,
>then Lucy was found and the implications of A. afarensis flew
>directly in the faces of Mary and Richard Leakey, who among other
>things wanted to claim that the Laetoli footprints were undeniably
>made by a member of the genus Homo. I lost direct track of Johanson
>a year after the initial find of Lucy (He m€oved out of Cleveland,
>and I moved on to grad school), but from that initial split a
>wholesale feud seems to have developed between him and the Leakeys.

The only reason for claiming that the Laetoli footprints were made
by A. afarensis is that they are 3+ million years old. Lucy's
foot morphology show clearly that her toes were curved and the
phalanges slightly enlongated, features consistant with an arboreal
ape. Now there is no question that Lucy was a biped but the foot
morphology together with the long arms relative to legs suggest at
least a partially arboreal niche.

The Laetoli footprints, on the otherhand, show no curvature of the toes
and no evidence of elongated phalanges. They are, according to Russell
Tuttle, indistinguishable from those made by modern Homo sapiens that
are habitually shoeless. If this is true, then there may indeed have
been an early species of Homo running around about the same time as
A.afarensis. Since we have Homo habilis (sensu lato) running around
about 2.4 million years ago and since we have few postcranial remains
for Homo habilis (I don't think OH-62 is a Homo habilis, by the way),
it is not unreasonable to suppose that there is an early species of
Homo living at the same time as A. afarensis.

This, of course, would mean that Lucy is not the "mother of us all,"
and may be nothing more than an early robust Australopithecine.
This is supported by the OM sinus observations by Falk and Conroy.

> BTW, I won't defend Don's self-promotion, but it's always
>seemed to me that Richard Leakey (who I tend to agree with more
>these days when I have any data at all to base an oppinion on)
>is just as bad in that way. But, hey! Let's sit back and see if
>success goes similarly to the head of Tim White now that he has
>an australopithecine all _his_ own! <g>
> Jon.

Of an interesting account of WHY Johanson and Mary Leakey are
not on speaking terms see Roger Lewin's book _Bones of Contention._

Philip "Chris" Nicholls Department of Anthropology
Institute for Hydrohominoid Studies SUNY Albany
University of Ediacara
"Semper Alouatta"