Re: Semantics? (Homo species)

Susan S. Chin (
Sat, 21 Dec 1996 06:55:39 GMT

Prockstroh ( wrote:
: I'm an anthropology major with a question that has been bugging me for a
: while. I've asked several professors, but they always get kind of crabby
: about it.

I won't go over the same points some of the other responses have already
covered... but when you approached several Anthro professors with your
question, were these Physical/Biological Anthro profs that you asked? I
would imagine a Social/Cultural Anthro prof would act crabby at the
mention of fossils :)

: I've been wondering why it is that, whenever someone finds a new jawbone
: or skeleton or whatever that resembles us in some way, they call it Homo
: boisei or Homo habilis or Homo XXX, rather than just plain old Homo
: sapiens. Usually, the difference is based on a slight skeletal difference
: (jawbone? skull size? Physical anthro. is not my strong point).

Your last point actually is important. Since Physical Anthro is not your
area of specialty, these apparently "slight skeletal differences" only become
significant once all diagnostic characteristics and details of a fossil are
studied as a whole... meaning the more you learn about something, the
better your appreciation of the overall patterns of the existing
variability and idiosyncracies. Physical Anthropologists use definite
criteria in identifying their finds as one species or another. It's not a
matter of arbitrarily assigning fossils to just any Homo taxa.

In fact, whenever a new hominid species or genus is found
and published (usually in Nature or Science), the authors MUST diagnose
the characters that make the fossils unique and therefore justifying
creation of a new species/genus designation.