Re: homo species

Phil Nicholls (
Wed, 12 Jul 1995 19:54:24 GMT

Ralph L Holloway <> wrote:

>On 11 Jul 1995, Alex Duncan wrote:

>> In article <3ttnm1$> Pete Vincent, VINCENT@TRIUMF.CA
>> writes:
>> >I guess I must be getting out of date. Is there no longer any support
>> >for these being
>> > Homo sapiens sapiens
>> > " " neandertalensis
>> > " " heidelbergensis ?
>> Not much.

> There are still some holdouts amongst us older paleoanthropologists
>that regard the differences between neandertals and modern Homo sapiens
>as a matter of subspecific ("racial") variation rather at the level of
>between-species variation. The original poster might be interested to
>know that this is one of the 'pendular" problems in palaeoanthropology,
>and that the pendulum is shifting toward the "splitting" end of the
>spectrum. -Having studied the brain endocats of Neandertals, I still
>cannot understand anything about the morphology that would lead me to
>believe they were a different species than ourselves. As for the rest of
>the morphology, I would expect differences as between Bushmen and
>Australian aborigines, or Eskimos and Ituri forrest Pygmies, etc, to be
>about of the same dimensionality.

I have not had the opporunity to pour over a large collection of
neandertal endocasts but I have examined a few when the opportunity
presented itself. The thing that has always struck me about hominid
endocasts is that the larger the brain seems to get the less detail
can be gleened from the endocast.

I was trained to regard neandertal variation as subspecific but began
to question that after reading Ian Tattersall's paper in JHE on
species recognition in the hominid fossil record and, well, it just
made a lot of damn sense. I mean that much variation in any other
animal would result in a species level separation.

If we assume that species are real entities and not just arbitary
divisions of a lineage then we must accept the fact that among living
organisms there is no direct relationship between morophological
variation and speciation. Therefore, as Tattersall points out, we
more likely to be underestimating the number of species we see in the
fossil record.

I used to be a lumper. I am now developing "splitter" affinities.
Perhaps all I need is a good psychiatrist.

> I particularly don't buy into the position, now seemingly ascendent
>that Neandertal behavior was so static and moribund (without innovation)
>that they were a different species, and a dopey one at that. It's a
>cultural bias, no doubt, on my part, that I tend to regard stability as
>"good" and "change" as not necessarily 'adaptive'. I am willing to admit
>this is partly a function of my own age...(grin). One thing about
>palaeoanthropology, you can take a position, currently unpopular, and
>expect to see your position become popular with time. Until the damn
>things are discovered frozen in blocks of ice, and we can test the DNA
>and perhaps experiment with the frozen sperm and eggs, we simply won't
>ever know for sure. Ditto with language origins, sexual behavior, etc., etc.

I don't know, I have always thought that if you want to study
neandertal morphology the NFL is a good place to start.

I blame it on that dreadful "Clan of the Cave Bear" book.

> As for H. heidelbergensis, remember that all we have is a jaw. Exact
>dating is missing, and while the coracoid process is hugh as is the
>breadth of the vertical ramus, it could well be included within Homo

Unfortunately, what gets included in Homo erectus is beginning to
become a problem.

>Ralph Holloway.

Phil Nicholls "To ask a question you must first know most of the answer.
Semper Alouatta! - Robert Sheckley