Evolution in Disarray!

17 Oct

How’s that for an attention-getting, but completely inaccurate, headline?

Today’s Guardian features an excellent story on the Dmanisi, Georgia Homo erectus fossils. Unfortunately, the accompanying headline is “Skull of Homo erectus throws story of human evolution into disarray.” With headlines like this, is it any wonder that the average newsreader thinks hominin evolution is scientifically controversial? Thankfully, there are disagreements within paleoanthropology. These disagreements move the discipline forward; they are the axle grease of scientific inquiry…and words like “disarray” are overstating it. Certainly, the Dmanisi fossils are an important find. They suggest that early Homo researchers in Africa might have erred on the side of splitting individual hominin specimens into distinct species, as opposed to lumping them into a single species. But “lumping vs. splitting” is a constant balancing act within zoological nomenclature.

Again, I think this is a great and informative newspaper article. Maybe I just prefer the more tentative language of academic articles. But then, who’s going to read a newspaper article titled “Dmanisi fossils indicate significant intra-species variation among early Homo“? Anyway, please read and enjoy the article – just don’t expect evolution to be in disarray when you’ve finished!

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