Re: Genus names

Darryl Deruiter (
19 Feb 1995 23:23:25 GMT

In <3i0skm$> Robert Scott <> writes:

>In article <3hu52j$> Patricia Lynn Sothman,
> writes:
>>During the 1940's and 1950's fossil discoverers were naming a new taxon
>>every time they found new fossils, which made referring to them very
>>confusing. A biologist named Ernst Mayr re-examined much of the
>>literature in the 1960's(?) and proceeded to dump all the hominid
>>material into 2 genera, Australopithecus and Homo. The genus

>Whoa! Hold the phone! Let's give credit where credit is due. Ernst Mayr
>may be a great thinker (and biologist) and instrumental architect in the
>modern synthesis BUT, it was J.T. Robinson (1963, i think) who proposed
>that *Zinjanthropus* was a junior synonym of *Paranthropus*. Credit for
>the synonymy of *Australopithecus* and *Paranthropus* probably goes to
>Philip Tobias.

You are correct, but the dates are a little bit off. Mayr proposed way
back in 1950 that all the hominid material found to that date could be
encompassed with in the genus Homo (I believe he called it Homo
transvaalensis). This was in the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on
Quantitative Biology, 1950 (I think it's volume 15, though I might be
wrong on that). However, in 1963, in a rather uncommon move, Mayr
admitted in print that he had been wrong, and that there were significant
enough differences between Australopithecus and Homo, specifically in the
area of encephalization, to warrant a generic difference.

As for John Robinson, as early as 1954 he had been arguing for a
separation between Australopithcus and Paranthropus. It was at this time
that he also formally sank Plesianthropus, Telanthropus, and I believe
Meganthropus within Australopithecus and Homo. When Leakey annopunced
Zinjanthropus in 1959, Robinson immediately took issue with the naming
and claimed that it was not a new genus, but rather a more northern
variant of Paranthropus. He never accepted Zinjanthropus at all, and from
the beginning called it a junior synonym of Paranthropus.

Finally in 1967 Phillip Tobias Formally sank all nomina except for Homo and
Australopithecus within the hominids, and gave formal descriptions to the
three Australopithecus species and the three Homo species that were
accepted as complete until the recent rash of new namings that began in
1978 with A. afarensis, and which moved through H. ergaster, H.
rudolfensis, A. aethiopicus, up to the new A. ramidus, as well as
including a resurgence of the species Paranthropus crassidens and H.
neanderthalensis. Perhaps we are not quite over our habit of classifying
every new find as a new species.

Darryl deRuiter ( Ph.(204) 474-9181 or (204)434-6075
Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba
"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people
being oppressed, and loving the people doing the oppressing" - Malcolm X