Friday, July 2, 2004

New heads are better than one

Petite skull reopens human ancestry debate

( news service, Will Knight, 18:47 01 July 04)

A typical archeological chasing after the wind.

Here’s the big paradox of contemporary archeological anthropology: we’ve known for almost a century (a la Franz Boas’s work) that skull morphology is one of the most variable phenotypic features and yet archeologists still split hairs over the fine differences between skull fragments that allegedly establish whole boundaries between species. It’s just spiffed-up necrophrenology.

I agree, though, this find does raise some interesting questions, to wit: if this little chap’s skull morphology is adequate to classify him as a Homo erectus, why should his presumably smaller skeleton de-classify him as one? Of course, if his skull isn’t taxonomically adequate, in light of the rest of his hypothetical skeleton, to classify him as a Homo erectus, what assurance do we have for relying so very heavily on previous cranial morphology as the criterion for differentiating prehistoric species?

Ah, let the archeologists scramble for the grants. Meanwhile, here's what I'm waiting for: some zany, straight-faced activist group in defense of our prehistoric ancestors' remains. We've already got groups for the defense of Native American burial grounds. But that's not good enough. We know who speaks for the dead, but who will speak for the really, really dead? Who will speak up for the whole earth as a burial ground for our own species?

O, the humanity?

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