Re: Modern Neanderthals?

Rohinton Collins (
20 Oct 1996 17:39:32 GMT

Hello again Mr.? Murray,

D K Murray <> wrote in article
> Is the argument for H.N. not swimming against the taxonomic tide a
> bit?

Is it? Taxonomy is a curious discipline. We can only classify on present
accepted phylogeny, based on the (VERY patchy) fossil record.
Unfortunately, few
scientists like their contributions or ideas superseded by current wisdom,
even though we should all gladly embrace new evidence, since that's what
science is all about - discovery and learning. The taxonomy of the late
hominids, as discussed, has remained unchanged for decades. Should not
recent evidence implying a change in phylogeny of modern humans and
Neanderthals be allowed to affect their taxonomy? After all, their
classification should be as descriptive as possible with respect to their

As long as we all accept the evidence which is laid down before us
(palaeontological, cultural, cognitive), and understand more fully the
phylogeny of recent hominids (or all hominids for that matter), taxonomic
disagreements should be seen as a secondary concern. However, taxonomy
can be a factor in the elucidation and understanding of hominid
phylogenies, and it
is for this reason that I (amongst others) propose that Homo sapiens
neanderthalensis should become Homo neanderthalensis.

Then again, you could just call me a 'splitter' and have done with it. ;-)

> There is a serious argument circulating that chimps should be
> genus Homo, not Pan (based mainly on genetic evidence, although their
> intellectual and linguistic potential is intriguing). There are other

'Serious' for who? Certainly not palaeoanthropologists.
Palaeoanthropologists classify different taxa by observed morphological
differences. Most of us realise by now that this is not the whole story,
however. If extinct, I would guess that variation between the common
and Bonobo chimpanzee would be small enough for palaeontologists to group
them within a single taxa. More and more, evidence describing hominid
culture and technology (and therefore cognitive capacity) plays a part in
taxonomy, and so it should. Genetics, however, is not the holy grail of
human origins. Genetic relatedness can be measured in different ways. Most
genetic information will be the same for all hominids - how to make bones,
muscles, etc. What part of the DNA do we compare to measure genetic
relatedness? One method is two mix two halves of a DNA strand from two
species and measure the degree of recombination. The discipline of genetics
in still in the early stages. We may expect a lot from it, but not, I fear,
for some time.

> areas where species formerly regarded as separate are now seen as
> possibly not (e.g.. various gulls).

Again, splitter or lumper? I would describe a distinct species as one which
is reproductively isolated. But this is, of course, very difficult to
determine in extinct species.

> Don Johanson seemed to think that a Neanderthal, or even an Erectus,
> dressed in a modern suit might just about pass muster on the subway
> (although as what I cannot recall), and whether we biologically could
> or socially would interbreed is hard to determine. Should a judicious
> application of Occam's razor not result in the designation of the
> fewest species neccessary for our naming system to be useful to us?

No. Why? It would only confuse attempts of phylogenic description.

> If the recent finds in Australia are what some claim them to be, does
> this cause problems for the H.N. view? What on earth was Twin Peaks all

Sorry, you'll have to refresh my memory on the Aussie finds. Oh and I
didn't watch one episode of Twin Peaks.

> Best wishes D.
> PS thanks for the prompt and polite reply, if you can answer the last
> question, the others should be pure dead easy, as they say in Dundee.

Regards Roh