Eurocentric Anthropology / Will the real H. Sapiens please stand up?

Right: A composite computer reconstruction of fossils from Jebel Irhoud shows a modern, flattened face paired with an archaic, elongated braincase (Meaning this is an “idealized model” that may or may not accurately represent actual persons who lived in this location at the time referenced.)

Homo sapiens as “designed by” Anthropologists

Article Comment: Very problematic (as usual) with the “definition” of Homo sapiens “changing” with each fossil discovery or re-analysis. This current “archaic skull shape” and “modern flat-face” discovery seems a  flimsy basis for vital species description and is indeed Eurocentric! No surprise there. But where does that leave contemporary humans who do not have flat faces? Non-flat (under or over prognathic) faces are generally labeled as “deformities” … which leaves a considerable percentage of modern humans as either “archaic proto-Homo sapiens” or as “deformed” modern Homo sapiens. And what about “dolichocephalic” (long, narrow head) modern humans? What are they? Are aboriginal Australian people “Homo sapiens” or not? African Americans?


World’s oldest Homo sapiens fossils found in Morocco

(edited for length)

By Ann Gibbons Jun. 7, 2017

For decades, researchers seeking the origin of our species have scoured the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. Now, their quest has taken an unexpected detour west to Morocco: Researchers have redated a long-overlooked skull from a cave called Jebel Irhoud to a startling 300,000 years ago, and unearthed new fossils and stone tools. The result is the oldest well-dated evidence of Homo sapiens, pushing back the appearance of our kind by 100,000 years.

The discoveries, reported in Nature, suggest that our species came into the world face-first, evolving modern facial traits while the back of the skull remained elongated like those of archaic humans. (Neanderthals,  H. erectus, Denisovans)

Back in 1961, miners searching for the mineral barite stumbled on a stunningly complete fossil skull at Jebel Irhoud, 75 kilometers from Morocco’s west coast. With its big brain but primitive skull shape, the skull was initially assumed to be an African Neandertal. In 2007, researchers published a date of 160,000 years based on radiometric dating of a human tooth.

At Herto, in Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley, researchers dated H. sapiens skulls to about 160,000 years ago; farther south at Omo Kibish, two skullcaps are dated to about 195,000 years ago, making them the oldest widely accepted members of our species, until now.

Some researchers thought the trail of our species might have begun earlier. After all, geneticists date the split of humans and our closest cousins, the Neandertals, to at least 500,000 years ago, notes paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. So you might expect to find hints of our species somewhere in Africa well before 200,000 years ago, he says.

One of the few people who continued to ponder the Jebel Irhoud skull was French paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin…

The team now has new partial skulls, jaws, teeth, and leg and arm bones from at least five individuals, including a child and an adolescent, mostly from a single layer that also contained stone tools. In their detailed statistical analysis of the fossils, Hublin and paleoanthropologist Philipp Gunz, also of the Max Planck in Leipzig, find that a new partial skull has thin brow ridges. (Is this an actual skull or a reconstruction from statistical data?) And its face tucks under the skull rather than projecting forward, similar to the complete Irhoud skull as well as to people today. But the Jebel Irhoud fossils also had an elongated brain case and “very large” teeth, (as do many H. sapiens today) like more archaic species of Homo, the authors write.

New dates and fossils from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco suggest that our species emerged across Africa. The new findings may help researchers sort out how these selected fossils from the past 600,000 years are related to modern humans and to one another. (Or will result in more of the same “socio-academic” arguments over which “fossil humans” are WORTHY of being the ancestors of modern European H. sapiens)

The fossils suggest that faces evolved modern features before the skull and brain took on the globular shape (how magical!) seen in the Herto fossils and in living people. “It’s a long story—it wasn’t that one day, suddenly these people were modern,” Hublin says.

Neandertals show the same pattern: Putative Neandertal ancestors such as 400,000-year-old fossils in Spain have elongated, archaic skulls with specialized Neandertal traits in their faces. “It’s a plausible argument that the face evolves first,” (Really?) says paleoanthropologist Richard Klein of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, although researchers don’t know what selection pressures might drive this. (Actually, many scenarios have been put forth as to changes in face shape – from  changes in diet to a trend toward “gracile neoteny”)

The traditional anthropological arguments follow:

This scenario hinges on the revised date for the skull, which was obtained from burnt flint tools. (The tools also confirm that the Jebel Irhoud people controlled fire.) Archaeologist Daniel Richter of the Max Planck in Leipzig used a thermoluminescence technique to measure how much time had elapsed since crystalline minerals in the flint were heated by fire. He got 14 dates that yielded an average age of 314,000 years, with a margin of error from 280,000 to 350,000 years. This fits with another new date of 286,000 years (with a range of 254,000 to 318,000 years), from improved radiometric dating of a tooth. These findings suggest that the previous date was wrong, and fit with the known age of certain species of zebra, leopard, and antelope in the same layer of sediment. “From a dating standpoint, I think they’ve done a really good job,” says geochronologist Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong in Australia.

Once Hublin saw the date, “we realized we had grabbed the very root of the whole species lineage,” he says. (!!!) The skulls are so transitional that naming them becomes a problem: The team calls them early H. sapiens rather than the “early anatomically modern humans” described at Omo and Herto. 

(Words again – word labels and categories – but where is the functional “reality”?)

Some people might still consider these robust humans “highly evolved H. heidelbergensis,” (arguments continue as to whether or not this is a made up or actual species!) says paleoanthropologist Alison Brooks of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She and others, though, think they do look like our kind. “The main skull looks like something that could be near the root (now there’s a fine example of specific concrete scientific language LOL Note that “root” refers to the popular “tree diagrams” of evolutionary relationships which are “archaic” at this point, and not up to date with current understanding of actual evolution…)  of the H. sapiens lineage,” says Klein, who says he would call them “protomodern, not modern.” (Aye, yai, yai! Habitual “word construct academic thought structures” are simply inadequate to understanding evolution)

The team doesn’t propose that the Jebel Irhoud people were directly ancestral to all the rest of us. (LOL Will any fossil humans ever be “good enough” to be the direct ancestors of European anthropologists?) Rather, they suggest that these ancient humans were part of a large, interbreeding population that spread across Africa when the Sahara was green about 300,000 to 330,000 years ago; they later evolved as a group toward modern humans. (Misty magic is invoked again) H. sapiens evolution happened on a continental scale,” Gunz says.

Support for that picture comes from the tools that Hublin’s team discovered. They include hundreds of stone flakes that had been hammered repeatedly to sharpen them and two cores—the lumps of stone from which the blades were flaked off —characteristic of the Middle Stone Age (MSA). Some researchers thought that archaic humans such as H. heidelbergensis invented these tools. But the new dates suggest that this kind of toolkit, found at sites across Africa, may be a hallmark of H. sapiens. (Murky mental picture)

The finds will help scientists make sense of a handful of tantalizing and poorly dated skulls from across Africa, each with its own combination of modern and primitive traits. For example, the new date may strengthen a claim that a somewhat archaic partial skull at Florisbad in South Africa, roughly dated to 260,000 years ago, may be early H. sapiens. But the date may also widen the distance between H. sapiens and another species, H. naledi, that lived at this time in South Africa.

The connections among these skulls and the appearance of MSA tools across Africa at this time and possibly earlier shows “a lot of communication across the continent,” Brooks says. (Communication is a popular and contagious theme in “communication-crazy” smart phone- era culture) This shows a pan-African phenomenon, with people expanding and contracting across the continent for a long time.” (Novel writing is the true calling of archaeologists and anthropologists and so-called science writers) 


The original paper: Nature

New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens

Jean-Jacques Hublin, (see original for all authors)


Fossil evidence points to an African origin of Homo sapiens from a group called either H. heidelbergensis or H. rhodesiensis. However, the exact place and time of emergence of H. sapiens remain obscure because the fossil record is scarce and the chronological age of many key specimens remains uncertain. In particular, it is unclear whether the present day ‘modern’ morphology rapidly emerged approximately 200 thousand years ago (ka) among earlier representatives of H. sapiens1 or evolved gradually over the last 400 thousand years2. Here we report newly discovered human fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and interpret the affinities of the hominins from this site with other archaic and recent human groups. We identified a mosaic of features including facial, mandibular and dental morphology that aligns the Jebel Irhoud material with early or recent anatomically modern humans and more primitive neurocranial and endocranial morphology. In combination with an age of 315 ± 34 thousand years (as determined by thermoluminescence dating)3, this evidence makes Jebel Irhoud the oldest and richest African Middle Stone Age hominin site that documents early stages of the H. sapiens clade in which key features of modern morphology were established. Furthermore, it shows that the evolutionary processes behind the emergence of H. sapiens involved the whole African continent.

Comment: Whatever happened to reproductive success as the distinctive basis for a species division? 

Homo sapiens did interbreed with “archaic humans” after all; is homo sapiens a “real” species, or a “breed” of an earlier foundational Homo species? It seems that in Eurocentric anthropology, at least, Homo sapiens is a morphologic type and not a species at all.

Where is reproduction of viable offspring in this “tangled obsession” with “body parts” as signs and portents in Eurocentric narcissism? Homo sapiens simply “looks like us”! How does “flat face” versus “prognathic face” impact “having offspring” – unless, of course, you are racist?

Face “shape” may be determined by factors having nothing at all to do with what is vital to being a modern Homo sapiens!




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