Re: archaic Homo sapiens

JamShreeve (
14 Sep 1995 10:10:51 -0400


Good question! Your confusion is warranted.

"Archaic Homo sapiens" is not a formal classification, like Home erectus
or Australopithecus afarensis. It is really just a term that
paleoanthropologists have agreed to use to group together a widespread
bunch of hominid fossils that have some features of Homo erectus - big
brow ridges, for instance as well as some features commonly associated
with Homo sapiens, for instance a larger brain. Unfortunately, the
mixture of primitive and modern features is so bafflingly distributed
among the various specimens and regions of the Old World that it is
impossible to treat this group as a unified species, or to see clearly how
it relates in an evolutionary sense to other hominid species, especially
our own. Which, by the way, has no agreed-upon morphological definition
either! So the best one can do for now is lump together specimens dating
from between 400,000 and 100,000 years ago that are not clearly erectus or
modern Homo sapiens, and see how new discoveries might help clarify the
family tree.

Still confused? Try my article in Discover magazine January 1994 on the
new archaic human skulls from Atapuerca in Spain. Or for the full story,
The Neandertal Enigma should be in bookstores now. James Shreeve