Re: S. African H. Sap find
Fri, 6 May 1994 17:03:36 GMT

In article <2q64tq$>
Patrick H. Adkins) writes:

>Apparently there was a major find of prehistoric H. sapiens
>fossils in South Africa within the last few years. These were
>discovered in a cave or cavern near the southern coast, beside a
>river and/or the ocean, and date to 100,000 - 200,000 years ago.

>Can anyone offer fuller information concerning this find? How
>does it relate to similar early H. sapiens fossils found in
>Europe or Asia? Can the fossils be distinguished by race?

>Thanks for the information.

Well the finds were not actually made in the
last few years but over the last thirty. The
site is Klasies River Mouth (KRM) and was
first excavated in the 1960's by Singer and Wymer [(1982) The middle Stone
Age at Klasies River Mouth in South Africa. University of Chicago Press];
latterly Hilary Deacon has reexcavated (1980s). A good overview is provided
in Klein RGK 1989. THe human career: human biological and cultural origins.
University of Chicago Press which is a superb book on the general issue of
human evolution in itself.

The time period in question is actually €120 000 to 60 000 years ago.
Briefly, and undoubtedly doing violence to the issues, the KRM materials
along with those from Border Cave (Natal/Kwazulu in S.Africa) have been
argued to be essentially modern in morphology in comparison to their
Neandertal contemporaries in Eurasia. They are thus broadly comparable to
the middle eastern anatomically moderns. In comparison to the latter the SA
specimens are extremely fragmentary and incomplete and thus, the degree of
modernity is contested by many - specifically the multi-regionalists (who
dispute the same conclusions of the middle eastern stuff as well). One
point that has drawn particular attention is evidence for quite dramatic
variation in robusticity. Some of the KRM pieces are remarkably gracile
(within the modern range) others quite hefty. Sexual dimorphism for some,
mutiple species/subspecies for others and for the multi-regionalists one of
the non-modern traits. The KRM stuff is naturally enough beloved by the out
of Africa adherents.

Race is not a term we like very much here in S.Africa (palaeo-
anthropologists and not certain politicos that is :)), but some earlier
workers have attempted the old negroid vs khoisanoid game on the wee bits
available. Futile! We have no viable sample of specimens to speak of in
order to establish the range of variation of this early population for
comparison with similar modern stats. They can be said to be African (big
deal huh?).

Being involved with work in the same time period I am prepared to bet that
the S'n African sites (of which there are an abundance) will yet produce
some startling surprises. This area is relatively poorly studied compared
to other parts of the world.