January 1, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Anthropologist Claims Humans, Neanderthals, Australopithecines All Variations on One Species

According to a news story in the UK News Telegraph, all fossil hominids, including modern humans, Australopithecines, Neanderthals and the recent Indonesian “hobbit man,” belong to the same species: Homo sapiens.  Reporter Robert Matthews wrote about Maciej Henneberg (U of Adelaide) and his argument, based on skull sizes and body weights for 200 fossil specimens, that all known hominid bones fit within the range of variation expected for a single species.  Henneberg made the startling claim in the Journal of Comparative Human Biology, where he said, “All hominims [sic] appear to be a single gradually evolving lineage containing only one species at each point in time.”

Henneberg still believes humans were evolving, but his analysis points out several important shortcomings in the “science” of paleoanthropology that should make the thoughtful reader wary of its practitioners.  (1) There is a huge range of variation possible within a single species.  (2) It is difficult to assign any human bone to one or another species.  Notice what this led Henneberg to state: “There is no precise way in which we can test whether Julius Caesar and Princess Diana were members of the same species of Homo sapiens” (emphasis added in all quotes).  Consider what that means when judging bones of alleged human ancestors.  You could tell any story you want.  (We like the one that Caesar and Diana were different species.)  (3) The article reminds everyone that paleoanthropologists often bicker about the meaning of their discoveries (see 12/21/2004 headline).  Geoffrey Harrison (Prof. emeritus, Oxford) said it best: “Clearly there is a need to be more aware of the possibility of variation – but that is not the inclination today.  It has been a problem because the discoverers have usually put so much effort into finding the evidence, so they want it to be important.”  (4) There are too few bones to make any conclusions.  Henneberg said there are fewer than 30 Neanderthal specimens available for study.  (5) Neanderthals could be considered fully human.  The article refers to Henneberg stating, in effect, that “What evidence there is, however, is consistent with Neanderthals being from the same species as modern humans.”  Christopher Stringer (Natural History Museum, London) adds that Neanderthals were not significantly different from us in skull or body size.  “The argument they are a different species is, of course, only a hypothesis…” (italics added).
Best quote from the story is the last paragraph:

He [Henneberg] added that the never-ending announcements of new species said more about those making the claims than about human evolution.  “The problem is there are far more palaeontologists than fossil specimens”.

Corollary: it also says more about the editors of National Geographic than about human evolution, too – both when they make never-ending announcements, and when they become strangely quiet about stories like this one.

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Categories: Early Man

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