Resolving the “muddle in the middle”: The case for Homo bodoensis sp. nov

“Those from Africa, they suggest, should be called Homo bodoensis, a new name that comes from a 600,000-year-old skull discovered in Bodo D’ar, Ethiopia 35 years ago. Homo bodoensis, then, would be considered the direct ancestor of modern humans — us — the study authors said.”

Interesting new evaluation of some human origins findings from 35 years ago.

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One thing that stuck with me was that the skull showed signs of “intentional postmortem defleshing.” (Isn’t postmortem redundant? I would think that skull defleshing is prettty sure to always be postmortem…) which makes you speculate a little as to whether this skull was a result of group conflict and possibly cannibalism or some odd burial practice or social ritual.

The authors are proposing a taxonomic reclassification to simplify things.

My understanding is that they suggest doing away with heidelbergensis. That makes sense, since the European heidelbergensis and the African heidelbergensis share the same time period, but there are significant differences. As the authors point out, the European fossils currently called heidelbergensis have key Neanderthal characteristics. They seem to fit an “early Neanderthal” better than a counterpart to the African examples of heidelbergensis. The authors of the paper thus propose combining African heidelbergensis and rhodesiensis as H. bodoensis. That moves European heidelbergensis out of the sapiens lineage as an MRCA.

Their reading of the evidence makes sense to me, but it doesn’t matter unless others adopt the terminology. I suspect scientists will agree to a new nomenclature for the African fossils, whether bodoensis or something else, but heidelbergensis will probably stick to the European branch. We’ll see.

Or perimortem. People do odd things.

Yeah, eventually.

A major problem is that it is far from clear that their reclassification actually simplifies things. It doesn’t do a great job of following the rules for scientific names (the paper has received unfavorable discussion on the taxonomy listserve).

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Proposing a new name or definition is always iffy, no matter what the field. It goes nowhere unless others agree, adopt the term for themselves, and start using it. I know some who have even tried to write their own idiosyncratic definitions of “human.” Didn’t go over too well for them, either.

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