National Geographic

Naming Our Ancestors: My New Column for the New York Times

Last week, scientists published a study of five 1.8 million-year-old hominid fossils. They may reveal profound lessons about a crucial chapter in our evolution: how our ancestors changed from bipedal apes to a more human-like lineage–in other words, the emergence of our genus, Homo. So what name do we give these skulls? What species do they belong to? It’s no simple matter naming our hominid ancestors, and that difficulty tells us something intriguing about their biology. And that’s the subject of my “Matter” column this week in the New York Times. Check it out.

There are 5 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Zach Miller
    October 24, 2013

    Of course, another problem is that paleoanthropologists seem to reject phylogenetic analyses both philosophically and because they’re so overprotective of their specimens. A lot of this ambiguity could be solved this way, but unless the field’s outlook radically changes, I doubt it will.

    Lots of taxonomic oversplitting (and undersplitting) has been illuminated in dinosaurs thanks to this technique: Edmontosaurus has been consolidated, Euoplocephalus has been split into different genera, and plenty of theropods, ornithopods, and ceratopsids have been shown to be different growth stages of established taxa. It’s incredibly frustrating to see these problems solved in one branch of paleontology but not another.

  2. friday attah
    October 25, 2013

    i disagree for the history of our ancestors.obviously the scripture make us to understand that the first human being.Adam and eve was created by GOd himself

  3. Serge D.
    October 26, 2013

    Not sure where to ask but:

    1) Any human cases of chromosome 2 fission that basically recreates the two original apes chromosomes? There are cases of healthy carriers of such chromosome fissions, just could not find one for chromosome 2.

  4. Dianne Kirby
    October 28, 2013

    To Mr Zach Miller
    Very astute points you make re: paleoanthropologists being simply too protective of their own specimen(s) to consider these are quite likely just slight variations on one theme. This was my area of study in the ’70s. How I recall my frustration with the endless splitting, which to me seemed to fly in the face of all common sense.
    Your analogy with the sensible reclassification of the dinosaurs is brilliant. It would be the perfect place to start.

  5. Kate
    October 30, 2013

    To friday attah
    who disagrees with the history of our ancestors because of the scripture. We all know the world was not created in 7 days and 7 nights, those 7 days and 7 nights were millions and millions of years, in which things evolved. I too am a Christian but I also cannot ignore scientific proof of evolution.

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