Friday, September 11, 2009

Once More with Feeling

There is a new hominid find being touted in the archaeology airwaves of late, this time a 1.8 million year old fossil from Georgia (theirs, not ours). Quoting Steve Connor in The Independent :

“The skulls, jawbones and fragments of limb bones [of this fossil] suggest that our ancient human ancestors migrated out of Africa far earlier than previously thought and spent a long evolutionary interlude in Eurasia – before moving back into Africa to complete the story of man.”

Oh, poppycock!

Once again, it has to be pointed out that just because a creature was a tool-using, fire-controlling primate, doesn’t mean it’s our ancestor. Plain and simple. It certainly doesn’t mean that our ancestors “spent a long evolutionary interlude in Eurasia – before moving back into Africa to complete the story of man.” Even should it eventually be proved that said fossil is in our direct line, it doesn’t mean that whatever creature it was didn’t live in Africa at the same time, as well. Just because we haven’t found a similar fossil in Africa, doesn’t mean that the creature didn’t live there. It only means we haven’t found such a fossil there, as yet.

Ergo Ergaster

But while we’re on the subject of Eurasian holidays for lost primates, can we ask a couple more questions?

What happened to all those guys who left Africa to live all over the Old World: the heidelburgensis, Java guy, Peking guy, floresiensis, not to mention neanderthal? There’s much discussion about the fate of the neanderthals vis-à-vis modern humans, but virtually nothing about h. erectus and his alter-egos: Java, Peking, ergaster, habilis, et al. It’s little wonder the Chinese claim that erectus/ergaster/Peking guy evolved locally into modern humans along with all the other erecti around the world. After all, what did happen to them, if they didn’t evolve into modern humans?

Still and all, while there’s little wonder about the claim, there’s little to substantiate it, as well. Furthermore, it’s hard to see how all the members of a widely dispersed species can evolve concurrently. I’m going with the theory (seemingly supported by the evidence) that modern humans only appeared once and then quickly took over the entire world.

So then, what did happen to the pre- or non-human primates that spread over the Old World. We know that they disappeared, but when? And how and why? Even though we only search for answers to those questions regarding the neanderthals, it seems as reasonable a question for the other species, as well. Certainly it’s being asked vis-à-vis the little people from Flores.

Current thinking (admittedly, this changes almost daily) is that the Flores Hobbits were not evolved from erectus, but shared a common ancestor with them. Interestingly, the claim is still out there that modern humans evolved from erectus. How that affects our relationship with the Hobbits is beyond me, but it certainly doesn’t address what happened to either erectus or Hobbit.

What I’m trying to understand is how a tool-using, fire-controlling animal, such as erectus, could simply disappear. Are we to believe that erectus died out naturally in most of its territory before modern humans arrived on the scene? It just seems so unlikely. Why do we think that primate line died out? Or was it still in place when modern humans poured out of Africa? Why would it have died out before humans got to it? What would have killed it off? If it didn’t evolve into modern humans—because that could only happen in one isolated place—did it simply die out before the arrival of modern humans? If so, why?

It appears to me that this Georgian find only adds to the number of biped primates that spread around the globe. We were only the most recent, but it’s beginning to look like we’re the last.

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