What constitutes Homo sapiens? Morphology versus received wisdom.

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Schwartz, Jeffrey
Year of Publication: 2016
Journal: J Anthropol Sci
Volume: 94
Pagination: 65-80
Date Published: 2016 Jun 20
Publication Language: eng
ISSN: 2037-0644

Although Linnaeus coined Homo sapiens in 1735, it was Blumenbach forty years later who provided the first morphological definition of the species. Since humans were not then allowed to be ante-Diluvian, his effort applied to the genus, as well. After the Feldhofer Grotto Neanderthal disproved this creationist notion, and human-fossil hunting became legitimate, new specimens were allocated either to sapiens or new species within Homo, or even to new species within new genera. Yet as these taxonomic acts reflected the morphological differences between specimens, they failed to address the question: What constitutes H. sapiens? When in 1950 Mayr collapsed all human fossils into Homo, he not only denied humans a diverse evolutionary past, he also shifted the key to identifying its species from morphology to geological age - a practice most paleoanthropologists still follow. Thus, for example, H. erectus is the species that preceded H. sapiens, and H. sapiens is the species into which H. erectus morphed. In order to deal with a growing morass of morphologically dissimilar specimens, the non-taxonomic terms "archaic" (AS) and "anatomically modern" (AMS) were introduced to distinguish between the earlier and later versions of H. sapiens, thereby making the species impossible to define. In attempting to disentangle fact from scenario, I begin from the beginning, trying to delineate features that may be distinctive of extant humans (ES), and then turning to the fossils that have been included in the species. With the exception of Upper Paleolithic humans - e.g. from Cro-Magnon, Dolni Vestonice, Mladeč - I argue that many specimens regarded as AMS, and all those deemed AS, are not H. sapiens. The features these AMS do share with ES suggest the existence of a sapiens clade. Further, restudy of near-recent fossils, especially from southwestern China (∼11-14.5 ka), reinforces what discoveries such as H. floresiensis indicate: "If it's recent, it's not necessarily H. sapiens".

DOI: 10.4436/JASS.94028
Alternate Journal: J Anthropol Sci