ancient faces and the man from java

Anthropology fans were delighted, amused, horrified and/or thrust into violent quarrels today by the publication of a paper which described a stupendous fossil find in Dmanisi, Georgia, and, more importantly, drew a very controversial conclusion from that description.  Read the story here for all the juicy details and some handsome photographs of the fossils in question, or just Google “homo erectus” and stand back.

Because according to the authors of this paper, they are all Homo erectus.  H. ergaster, H. habilis, H. rudolfensis, and probably many more: all those piddly little species backed up by one or two fossils each and looking pretty much alike in reconstruction, they are all one thing and that one thing is erectus.  I am happy as heck somebody who is an actual anthropologist is saying this, because this is always what I thought was going on and along with all the lumpers in the world I am feeling pleasantly vindicated.

The world of thought, scientific, philosophical or otherwise, is divided into lumpers and splitters: lumpers want to put things together into a few big categories with broad definitions, and splitters want to divide things up into many categories with specialized definitions.  Most people tend to go one way or another, no matter what the subject is, and your position on the lumper/splitter scale has a profound effect on your general outlook on life.  I am an unrepentant lumper, and this is one of the places where I feel most strongly about it.

Look at those beautiful faces up there– those are the faces of the people who walked out of Africa all those years ago.  If the name  “erectus” was good enough to be  given to the first specimen found, Java Man in 1891, then both logic and the rules of science say it is good enough for all the rest of those amazing people, who live on today in all of us.

(Yes, anthropology geek here.  Not ashamed to admit it, and today is a very good day to be one.  And there is a comics connection: in several timelines of the Knotted Rope, holdover populations of Homo erectus survive and even thrive in isolated pockets.  They are most often known to their Neanderthal and baseline (H. sapiens) neighbors as “Easterners”, and are thought of as semi-folkloric figures, part wood elf, part wild man.)

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1 Response to ancient faces and the man from java

  1. Pingback: the word of the day is “hominin” | a cartoonist in Kekionga

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