Visualizing Human Evolution with a New Ancient Human Species
Published 2 weeks ago
on December 31, 2021
A New Member of Human Evolution
The next step in understanding human evolution has brought forth the reclassification of some old names.
Mirjana Roksandic, Predrag Radovic, and their team of researchers propose a new human species called Homo bodoensis.
H. bodoensis isn’t a discovery of new fossils but a re-examination of old ones. This reclassification is an attempt to clean up long-standing confusion about our ancestors and how humans evolved.
The Muddle in the Middle
The Middle Pleistocene was a period spanning 780,000 to 126,000 years ago and had a lot of different human species existing at the time. These species included:
- European Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis)
- Asian Denisovans
- African Homo heidelbergensis
- African Homo rhodesiensis
- African Homo erectus
The Middle Pleistocene was a lively time for human evolution, as it eventually spawned our species, Homo sapiens. Despite this bountiful presence of activity, our knowledge of human evolution during this age is lacking. This problem is known as “the Muddle in the Middle.”
Age-Old Thinking about Human Evolution
Human fossils from the Middle Pleistocene in Africa and Eurasia are usually classified as either Homo heidelbergensis or Homo rhodesiensis.
H. heidelbergensis is an extinct species of human whose first fossil was found in a gravel pit in Germany in 1907. Since then, new-found fossils that did not fit the classification criteria of Neanderthals, H. sapiens, or the older H. erectus have been classified as H. heidelbergensis.
Roksandic and her team argue that this ‘lumping’ is a misattribution that muddles our understanding of which species H. sapiens originated from.
In addition, newer DNA evidence suggests that some H. heidelbergensis fossils from Europe originated from early Neanderthals. The name is, thus, redundant.
Some believe that H. rhodesiensis is an extinct species of humans and the most recent ancestor of H. sapiens and Neanderthals.
Despite its importance, it never gained popularity in the paleoanthropology communities. This is because of its poor definition, but Roksandic supports its removal because it is also an alleged namesake to Rhodesia’s violent and aggressive colonizer, Cecil Rhodes.
It was high time for both H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis to go.
Homo bodoensis and What Changes in Human Evolution
Roksandic and her team suggest dissolving the two species to introduce a new merged species, H. bodoensis. The name derives from a 600,000-year-old skull discovered in 1976 in Bodo D’ar, Ethiopia.
All fossils previously classified as H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis originating in Africa are reclassified as H. bodoensis. As such, this now makes H. bodoensis our direct ancestor.
Fossils from Western Europe are reclassified as H. neanderthalensis to reflect the early appearance of Neanderthal-like traits. Asian fossils, like those from China, may belong to a different lineage.
A Doubted Legacy?
Despite its merits, not everyone agrees with this new proposal.
Renowned anthropologist Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum of London says that the reshuffling of species is unnecessary.
While he agrees that the name H. heidelbergensis is used too loosely and should be confined to a few select fossils, he is happy to continue using H. rhodesiensis. He argues its namesake comes from the country, not from Cecil Rhodes himself.
In addition, Stinger says there are a variety of other species names to choose from before creating a new one. If H. rhodesiensis must be renamed, species like Homo saldanensis, named by Matthew Drennan in the 1950s from a fossilized skull, should take precedence.
Roksandic and her team reclassified H. saldanensis into H. bodoensis.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Visualizing Human Evolution with a New Ancient Human Species (visualcapitalist.com)
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