Re: Paleoanthropologists and Morphology

Mike Muller (
Thu, 11 Jul 1996 15:28:03 -0400

Susan S. Chin wrote:
>> I'm not sure why there is a problem with relying primarily on morphology> when describing and naming a new fossil species and/or
genus.> Paleoanthropologists specializing in osteological remains are
trained to> recognize the minute details which distinguish one fossil
from another> based on anatomical differences of the specimen. It's all
in the> morphology. I'm sure isoptopic analyses may be able to reveal
even more> about A. ramidus. But for now, we all just want to know what
these> creatures looked like from the remains that have been recovered
by White> and his colleagues. So yes, when White, Suwa and Asfaw publish
the> results of their analyses, I fully expect morphological data. It's
the> foundation for all future studies. I don't see why there should be
a> problem with this.

I must clarifywhat I am getting at here. In the face of evidence from
other means such as DNA and isotopes some researchers are still arguing
their points with strictly morphology. All I am trying to say is that
along with basic morphological analysis there needs to be an examination
of other lines of evidence. An excellent example of this is Wolpoff's
insistence on continuity when reliable dating of past fossil, new
discoveries and DNA all refute this argument...yet he continues to beat
it into the ground with morphology. I have nothing against morphologists
at a paleoanthropologist I look first at morphology when
formulating questions I can answer with isotopes. I never said there was
a problem with using morphology to describe anything I don't know where
that came from. Of course you use it when faced with a new find, at
that point there is nothing else to rely on.... but when other evidence
comes to light that refutes your description or theory, whether it be
isotopes ar DNA or what ever, it needs to be acknowledged and respected.
(And let me clarify I am not suggesting that White doesn't..everyone
calm down!)