June 13, 2012

Chris Stringer on the status of Homo heidelbergensis

The Natural History Museum has an overview of the status of Homo heidelbergensis, the widely accepted common ancestor of modern humans and Neandertals. This accompanies Chris Stringer's article that will soon appear in Evolutionary Anthropology. The piece from the NHM is quite instructive as it highlights the dubious attribution of the Sima de los Huesos remains to heidelbergensis; Stringer expresses doubts on both their 600ky antiquity and their taxonomic classification, preferring to assign them to early Neandertals.

There was an earlier story in the Guardian with a rather misleading title which quotes some other opinions on the controversy.

(I'll add the abstract to this paper and any further comments on it when it appears on the journal website).

UPDATE (Aug 3): Abstract added; paper is open access.

Evolutionary Anthropology Volume 21, Issue 3, pages 101–107, May/June 2012

The status of Homo heidelbergensis (Schoetensack 1908)

Chris Stringer

The species Homo heidelbergensis is central to many discussions about recent human evolution. For some workers, it was the last common ancestor for the subsequent species Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis; others regard it as only a European form, giving rise to the Neanderthals. Following the impact of recent genomic studies indicating hybridization between modern humans and both Neanderthals and “Denisovans”, the status of these as separate taxa is now under discussion. Accordingly, clarifying the status of Homo heidelbergensis is fundamental to the debate about modern human origins.

Link

5 comments:

terryt said...

From the link:

"Both morphological and genetic studies have suggested that Neanderthals and modern humans began to branch away from each other about 400,000 years ago".

I know that some will disagree with this comment, but most accept the separation to be half a million years, plus or minus.

"They believed that heidelbergensis was a widespread species, which in Africa gave rise to H. sapiens, and in Europe and Asia gave rise to the Neanderthals".

That is what I have presumed for some time. Some may be interested in what I wrote in an essay on heidelbergensis some years back:

http://humanevolutionontrial.blogspot.co.nz/2009/06/human-evolution-on-trial-species-or-not.html

I would now change some ideas in the essay but most has been subsequently shown as being correct.

eurologist said...

The 600,000 years old date is a bit weird, given that the fossils were originally thought to be 300 - 400ky old. As to the species, I thought there was some agreement that ~350 - 150 ky is a transition time in Europe from heidelbergensis to Neanderthal, due to climatic isolation (while heidelbergensis may have continued less changed in Asia). It's not really a surprise that the fossils would show some Neanderthal features - the real question is where they are located within the spectrum.

Beastmanager said...

I think erectus is the common ancestor and heidelbergensis a branch to neandertals only. Stringer is picking the data to fit his model.

Onur said...

I think erectus is the common ancestor and heidelbergensis a branch to neandertals only. Stringer is picking the data to fit his model.

We'll see when his new paper is published.

terryt said...

"We'll see when his new paper is published".

Yes, and I'd be surprised if there can then be any argument about heidelbergensis being anything other than a common ancestor to both moderns and Neanderthals, as well as Denisovans.

"I thought there was some agreement that ~350 - 150 ky is a transition time in Europe from heidelbergensis to Neanderthal, due to climatic isolation (while heidelbergensis may have continued less changed in Asia)".

Neanderthals in the strict sense probably evolved gradually over the period ~350 - 150 ky, but heidelbergensis is older than 350k. Before that time I suspect we cannot correctly call anything 'Neanderthal' because it shared the habitat with individuals who didn't look particularly Neanderthal. If we are prepare to accept 'Neanderthal' for particular individuals we would be forced to accept that there were at least two separate species living in Europe at the time.