Re: Archaic H. sapiens???

Michael McBroom (
Sat, 11 Jan 1997 10:24:25 -0500

Dan Barnes wrote:

> >> First, isn't the genus of neanderthalis known as Homo Sapiens
> >> Neanderthalis?
> >
> >It depends on who you talk to. Some people believe it is a subspecies
> >of Homo sapiens, hence the Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
> >classification. Others believe it is too morphologically different, and
> >class it as Homo Neanderthalensis. I prefer the second classification.
> >
> I also tend to favour the latter name since if they were replaced then some
> variety of speciation event must have occured in Africa around 150 ka. Although
> of course there are plenty of people who would argue otherwise.

There is another possibility, though: that AMH and Neanderthal both
evolved from a common ancestor and that the two varieties did not
deviate enough to become separate species. I don't buy this for a
minute, but I was under the impression that this view has been the
motivation behind the preference for sub-species designations.

In his book _The Last Neanderthal_, Ian Tattersall cites the 1978 study
done by Albert Santa Luca, which was undertaken to determine
osteological characteristics that were unique to Neanderthal. Are you
familiar with this study? Santa Luca found four cranial areas that were
unique to Neanderthal: the Supramastoid tuberosity, the Juxtamastoid
crest, the Suprainiac depression, and the Occipital torus. This study
is almost 20 years old now, and I'm curious if it has withstood the test
of time. I suspect it has, though, or else Tattersall would not have
spent better than a page on it in his 1995 book.

It seems to me that, if Santa Luca's 4 characteristics of Neanderthal
are correct, and if gene-exchange ocurred between Neanderthal and AMHs,
or if AMHs were descendents of Neanderthal, that we should see some
indications of one or more of these four characteristics in AMHs. But
apparently we don't. This seems to argue quite strongly that, not only
are we separate species, but that no interbreeding ocurred (or if it
did, no significant population of viable offspring resulted from it).

Tattersall supports the view that H. neanderthal branched off from H.
heidelbergensis and that H sapiens arose somewhat later from the H.h.
line. I'm having a bit of trouble reconciling all this, though, and
wonder if I'm not alone on this. I became involved in this discussion
because of my interests in the biological origins of language, and
because of an interesting observation made by Philip Lieberman and
Jeffrey Laitman when they were involved in vocal tract reconstructions
based on skull base data. They noted that in some "archaic" specimens,
the basicranial area was flexed almost as much as it is in AMHs. One
specimen that they analyzed which exhibited this high degree of flexure
was the Kabwe skull. Tattersall suggests a date of "150 kyr-plus" for
this specimen. I'm wondering, are we not sure of a more precise date
for Kabwe than this?

I ask because Tattersall also uses a drawing of the Kabwe skull for H.
heidelbergensis in his cladograms. Now, if Kabwe is only 150ky old, and
if Kabwe is indeed representative of H. heidelbergensis, this would seem
to argue for H. neanderthal having arisen from another form of Homo that
would have been a predecessor to both. If Kabwe is older than that --
predating H. neanderthal perhaps, then this would seem to argue even
more strongly for H. neanderthal having arisen from an ancestor common
to both species. I base this on the evidence that H. neanderthal's
basicranial area is more reminiscent of H. erectus' (or H. ergaster's,
if you prefer). So, if we may assume that Lieberman and Laitman are
correct in their views that the basicranial area is indicative of
supralaryngeal morphology (and I believe that they are), then it would
appear that either H. neanderthal evolved away from the development of a
vocal tract capable of articulate speech to a more simple model, or that
H. neanderthal's lineage branched off from the H. erectus/ergaster line
prior to the emergence of H. hiedelbergensis as evinced by the Kabwe

Care to comment?

> >While Neanderthal burials tend to be simple, almost casual, H. sapiens
> >burials were often quite elaborate (Tattersall, 1995: 165-170).
> >
> I would recommend the excellently titled:
> Gargett, R.H. (1989) Grave shortcomings: The evidence for Neanderthal burials.

> Current Anthropology. 30. 157-90.

Thanks for this cite. I will look it up.


Michael McBroom
CSUF Linguistics