Friday, August 10, 2012

H. rudolfensis

We’re happy to announce that H. rudolfensis has been officially added to the human family. It’s on the one hand exciting and on the other a “duh” moment. Regular readers (Hi, Dave) know that I’ve argued for multiple pre-humans for a long time; it seems only logical. Heck, I’ve argued for multiple humans coexisting up until fairly recently (like, maybe, 20,000 years or less) for equally long or longer.

While I’m not the site anyone’s going to for breaking news, I hope a few people drop by for an amateur’s take on life (aren’t we all amateurs?). For those folks I’d like to give a shout-out for Aristotelean deductive armchair reasoning. You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating.

It comes down to statistics, one of my favorite subjects. If I believe in anything, it’s statistics. For example, if the sun has been showing up every morning for four billion years, statistics say it will probably show up again tomorrow. You can bet on it. It’s a good bet because, if you lose, you won’t have to pay it, anyway. The predictability of multiple human ancestors comes from the patterns of other animals. There’s usually multiple versions of whatever running around, so it was natural to think there must have been multiple peoples running around, as well.
Which got me to counting peoples, way back then. I started with the common logic of what percentage of fossil species do we know about for any branch of the animal tree? Ten percent? That might be high, but let’s go with it. I knew that without being an archeologist. Didn’t do any field work to figure that out; just took what I read. I also knew, without being an archeologist, that we already had two fossils species of humans living together at the same time: us and the Neanderthals (we’re a fossil species but not extinct). Assuming that, at best, we had found ten percent of the hominid fossils from, say, 40,000 years ago, it would stand to reason there could have been as many as twenty different hominid species running around at the same time.

Then the hobbits and the Denisovians appeared. Suddenly we had four fossil hominids scrambling over the Earth at the same time. Now, either that’s four of the projected twenty, or we can boost the projection to forty species. While that might seem excessive for such a recent period, we can, nonetheless, assume that the original projection of a bunch more than two fossil species will turn out to be correct. Going back in time, we can assume that a smaller and smaller percentage of the fossil record is known, so that, if they’re now projecting three hominid species from around two million years ago, we can safely guess there may have been thirty or more species at that time.

That’s from the armchair, but it didn’t take any brilliance on my part. It didn’t even take the application of complex formulas; it only took looking at the situation and saying, “Seems to me…” Gentle musing could come up with that analysis. It did. Sometimes, I think, professionals spend too much time looking so closely at their subjects that they forget to look at the broader picture. Only now are we hearing Leakey, et al, saying to expect more discoveries. Well, yes. Many more.

What’s that law about shrinking computers? Every eighteen months or so? One could graph the pushing back in time of “firsts” and project that graph out into the future with satisfactory results, I’m sure. There is a regular pattern to earlier and earlier discoveries, so that without knowing what that graph would actually look like, one can safely predict that any given “earliest” date will be regularly pushed further and further back. Or that more and more species will be found; same thing. These are predictable patterns. I know that without knowing what the patterns are, without being an archeologist, by simply following the news. It’s lazy, but it works.

So be prepared, little baby peoples are going to come crawling out of the rocks: H. infantalis.

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