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Henneberg - Two Interpretations of Human Evolution Essential Ism and Darwinism - 09

Henneberg - Two Interpretations of Human Evolution Essential Ism and Darwinism - 09

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Two interpretations of human evolution:Essentialism and Darwinism
 Maciej Henneberg
Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Research Unit, University of Adelaide,Adelaide 5005, and Department of Archaeology, Flinders University Australia;E-mail: Maciej.Henneberg@adelaide.edu.au
Despite intensive studies of a large number of fossils discovered during the20th century there is no consensus as to the interpretation of the process of hominin evolution.Some authors see as many as six genera and some 17 species, while others argue for a singlelineage from Plio/Pleistocene until today. Such diversity of interpretations of the same factsindicates lack of a uniform theoretical basis underlying studies of human evolution. Debates
can be resolved using basic principles of scientic inquiry – parsimony and falsication of null
hypotheses. Hypothesis testing is now possible with respect to the evolution of basic hominincharacteristics such as brain size, body size and the size of the dentition that have sample sizesof a few hundred individual data points each. These characters display a continuous changewith time. Analyses of variance do not falsify the null hypothesis of the existence of only one
species at any time – variances around regression lines on time do not differ from the varianceobserved in the single species of Homo sapiens – distributions of residuals are normal. Thus,
splitting of the hominin lineage into coeval species can only be based on descriptive character-istics that are liable to errors of subjective judgment.
hominin, hominid,
, brain, stature
Received 10 June; accepted 8 December 2009DOI: 10.2478/v10044-008-0016-2© 2009 Polish Anthropological Society
72, 66
80 (2009)
Understanding of the evolutionary pro-cess that produced modern humans is of crucial importance for the way peopleperceive themselves and their lives. It in-forms ideologies underlying political andeconomic decisions. Thus it is importantto have this process documented and inter-preted in accordance with the best rules of 
scientic practice. Despite over 150 years
of studies of human evolution, debates on
how our major traits – such as mental ca
 pacities and erect bipedal locomotion – 
emerged are still ongoing [Carruthers
Cela-Conde and Ayala
The number of validly named hu-man species by the end of the 20th centuryexceeded 50 [Meikle and Parker 1994,Henneberg
while it has been pro-posed that an even larger number should
 be identied [Tattersall
and actually
Two interpretations of human evolution
has recently [Brown
et al.
It doesnot add, though, to the clarity of the pic-ture of our origins.Over the last half-century several au-thors proposed that the parsimony and fal-
sication of hypotheses should be applied
to studies of human evolution postulatinga “single species hypothesis” [Brace 1967;Wolpoff 1968, 1971]. According to Hunt[2003], Frank Livingstone proclaimedhimself to be the proponent of single spe-cies hypothesis still at the beginning of the21st century. Kevin Hunt himself arguesstrongly in support of the single species hy-pothesis using data on taxonomic diversityof large-bodied genera of mammals. Re-cently Holliday [2003] proposed an inter-mediate interpretation of hominid diversity.He used the notion of syngameon which isa network of separate cohesive taxa that ex-change genes among themselves. He sup-ported this interpretation with observations
of gene ow among several species of thetwo genera of baboons – 
 – [Jolly 1993, 2001; Jolly
et al
.1997]. Quintyn [2009] summarized currentdiscussions concerning hominin diversityand concluded that a temporary ban on cre-ating new hominin taxa should be imposeduntil a clearer understanding of homininvariation can be reached.
Taxonomy, essentialism and theconcept of species
To make sense of the variety of formsthat surround us we must be able to reduceit to a manageable number of generalizingcategories that can then be used in variousthought processes. Thus, the human ten-dency to categorize: From the time platonic
idealism arose in classical antiquity to the
early enlightenment, the task of natural-ists was perceived as that of discoveringthe ideal pattern of the world of livingthings, the “pattern of creation”. Similari-ties among individuals were used to distilessences of ideal types of their respectivekinds and those types were then organizedinto nested hierarchies of species, genera,families, classes, orders, phyla, etc. [Lin-naeus 1758]. Thus, conceptually, the small-est unit of life was a species, not an indi-vidual. An individual was but an exampleof an ideal species type. Individual varia-tion was consciously ignored for the sakeof clarity. Once described, taxa becameunits of study for biologists. Discussionsabout the complexity of life in a particularregion or the entire world were based on thenumber of species and higher taxa presentin various environments, the interactionsstill being studied as those between par-ticular taxa, while descriptions of evolutionconsist of biblical lists of who is a descend-ant of whom and what the family tree lookslike [Henry and Wood 2007, Stanford
et al.
 2009].As an example, following a suggestionby Robert Eckhardt:
And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad be-gat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methush-ael; and Methushael begat Lamech [
4:18, 1611].
 Homo erctus
is descended from
 Homo habi-lis
, which in turn descended from
 Australo- pithecus garhi
[Larsen 2008].
Figure 1 is an example of the classic rep-resentation of a hominin family tree. Such
representation may be as well reecting
a pattern of creation. No explanations of how and why particular branches arose aregiven. No uncertainty as to possible mix-ing of categories is indicated, nor is thereuncertainty indicated in separating somecategories from others.Taxa are perceived as real entities andthey can only have two states: existence or
M. Henneberg
extinction; categorically yes or no. Suchan approach, though producing voluminousdescriptions, cannot provide explanations of the process of evolution since evolutionarymechanisms are based on individual varia-tion and transmission of this variation fromone generation of individuals to the next.It can be argued that before we can analyzeanything and search for processual explana-
tions, we must rst provide a solid descrip
-tion. Such description, however, must be interms that lend themselves to further pro-ductive analysis. In biology, the use of ar-bitrarily and sharply delimited categoriesis not conducive to productive analysis. Itleads rather to “catastrophic” explanationsin the style of George Cuvier [Brace 1981].Taxonomic descriptions may be useful incertain applications, such as ecology, butthe fact that they ignore individuals and the
ow of time from generation to generation
is always a limiting factor.
Currently there exist some 23 denitions
of species [Mayden 1997, Quintyn 2009].They all attempt to “salvage a Linnean rank”[Lee 2003] in the face of the overwhelmingunderstanding that life is variable and nostable categories actually exist. FollowingLee [2003], current concepts of species canbe subdivided into (1) similarity conceptsusing phenetic resemblance of organisms asthe sole criterion, (2) cohesion concepts inwhich organisms are purported to share fea-tures allowing them to remain coherent fromgeneration to generation, (3) monophylyconcepts stressing membership of a singlenonreticulating lineage, and (4) interbreed-ing concepts in which members of a speciesexchange genes among themselves whilebeing reproductively isolated from others.
Concepts belonging to the rst three groups
are valid for any taxonomic rank, not be-
ing specic to species. Depending on howstrictly one denes phenetic similarity, level
of cohesion or monophyletic inclusiveness,
one can dene supraspecic taxa (like ge
nus) or infraspecic groupings (like races).
The interbreeding concepts emphasize thatactual exchange of genetic material oc-curs only within a species [Mayr 1969,
Fig. 1. Scheme originally published on page xxix of the Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehisto-ry [Tattersall
et al.
1988] and repeated with modication in the second edition [Delson
et al.
2000], author’sown drawing. This is not evolution, this is systematics. It may as well be a “pattern of creation”.
 Australopithecus afarensis Australopithecus aethiopicus Australopithecus boisei Australopithecus robustus Australopithecus africanus Homo habilis Homo erectus
H. sapiens
 Homo sapiens sapiens

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