Anthropology Problems of creating a hominid taxonomy

Although the presentation is meant to enumerate on the problems or controversies surrounding the taxonomy, it is important that the content first familiarizes the audience with the taxonomy. The first part of the content will therefore dwell on the background of the classification. This part will be short and will mainly be a historical view and consequent development of the taxonomy. The coverage will start from the time the term homo was first used more two hundred years ago. The next section will then cover problems associated with the taxonomy. The part will be covered as follows
Changes that have taken place in the classification of hominids over the years. The term was First introduced in the 18th century, and the genus homo was classified in to two species namely homo sylvestris and Homo sapiens (humans).

However, since then many more fossils have been discovered, something that has led to a change in the earlier understanding of the genus. With these additions it has become hard to aggregate the similarities and differences between various species and genera within the genus. The major methods are outlined below

Morphological classification - This was the earliest form of classification and was the prime method used up to the 1960s. As the name suggests, it is simply based on attributes such as appearance- members of the same class have to look almost the same. Under this method, the paleoanthropologists explore attributes such as height, posture body shape amongst other things. Simple and straight forward, it may sound, but think about members of one group who may be in different stages of maturity or may in different geographical locations. They may have different physical appearances and yet they belong to the same class.

Classification based on genetics was introduced later and its effect was to further divide the genus. The new classification came up with three classes, that is, pongidae, Hylobatidae and hominidae. This is far much different from the earlier morphological classification that had two broad classes.

Genetic or molecular classification was followed by cladistic classification. This classification used descent as the means of classification. Each species was classified according to its origin. Under a particular group therefore, members are ranked according to their age, which is estimated from the fossils. This method is complementary to the earlier two methods as it provides a way of ranking members within families.

With this mix of classifications, there is clash as to the best method of classifying this group. It can be based on competencies such as hunting sophistication and making of hand tools so that the most intelligible share the same classification as the humans. It may also be according to the brain size.  Each of these classifications has an implication, with the paleoanthropologists responsible their design vouching for their innovations. This situation has created some subjectivity in the hominid taxonomy.

Fossil record of homo erectus and australopithecines
The hominid taxonomy covers the evolution of all species within the genera known as homo. The first to appear among this group was the Homo habilis and has since then undergone a lot of evolutionary changes. As would be expected, the genus has undergone several changes in its development up to the current species of Homo sapiens. Variety is a product of different morphological and genetic variations that the members had to undergo to get to where they are now.

The first species of homo genus evolved from australopithecines, probably on to Homo habilis. Geographically however, Australopithecines confined themselves within Africa and for that reason, have their fossils being a bit rare. An example of even rarer fossils is the one belonging to Australopithecus afarensis. Homo erectus on the other hand, represents the first sign of sophistication and was very mobile due to that because it was able to live in a variety of environments. This ability has made the fossils belonging to this family abundant because of the wide geographic presence. Therefore, in terms of fossil records, the Homo erectus has a better record.

Why humans could be descendants of ape like creatures
This is a reasonable contention for anyone not familiar with the concept of evolution. Indeed, earlier paradigms employed by anthropologists to dissect evolution have tended placed humans at a greater distance from other evolutionary creatures. A change was to occur later with the introduction of genetic or molecular classification, which showed that the human genetic structure did not differ much from that of the apes.

Evolution is a continuous process that goes on to date. One of the basic tenets of evolution is genetic mutation. Every animals genetics have the capability of changing. Our genetic as humans is not cast in stone and is even bound to change in a few million years to come. Added to this is the fact that all creatures have the ability to pass on genetic adaptation to its offspring through the reproductive process. To crown it all, there is the natural selection theory as espoused by Charles Darwin. This principle explains the reason that some species became extinct for example, dinosaurs.
According to this principle, only fit species will be capable of surviving and that is why constant change has to occur for each of the species. The human, for that reason, is no longer the ape like creature that was a few million years ago because genetic information that was passed between generations led to the elimination of those characteristics. As for the question of whether we can still breed with the apes still in existence, the answer is no. There is something known as speciation. Although we share a common ancestor, the process of speciation led to advanced genetic mutation that we became completely isolated.

Cultural big bang
This event has been given different names and precise dates. Nobody disputes that it happened, only that there is a difference as to when it did take place. The time variations notwithstanding, there is general agreement that this marked the emergence of modern man. To some, it was the rise of modern man known to as homo sapien sapien. From this point onwards, evolution or human changes were no longer based on physical changes. Changes that started being considered from then on were those related culture and thinking. Therefore, it is right to assume that the current human beings acquired their current mental dispositions during this period and very little, if any, change has ever occurred.

It was around this period that carvings, cave paintings, and beadworks started to appear. In addition, there is high probability that language developed around this time. Some of the new activities that man may have started doing around this time include grinding stone, fishing and making ornaments. Brain development must have been at an optimum, which led to great innovations. It was around this time that family units started to get recognized and humans began settling down or staying in certain places for longer periods of time. Naturally, they started admiring and appreciating their environments.

In appreciating their environments, they must have thought it necessary to make it as habitable as they could, thus the presence of rock and cave paintings. Similarly, communication must have developed out of the need to create coherent family units. Apart from family communication, there must have been more need to communicate with other people. Cultural big bang was therefore a cultural revolution that followed physical evolution. It was around this time that man started having organized settlements and coherent language. Music must also have been invented during this time.

Race and ethnic stratification
The question of race and ethnicity has been with the human race for long-probably just after the big bang Cultural Revolution. The contention is whether race is simply a difference in skin colortone. Alternatively, is ethnicity a matter of language only Or does it have biological implications as well The truth is that these attributes do not have any biological consequences or implications and it would be unfair to vilify anyone by using them as a basis. Differences between human beings are as strong between individuals of the same race as they are of those from different races.

A study of genetic makeup for most human beings shows homogeneity. In addition to the issue of homogeneity, there is the issue of genetic variations between different generations. Genetic variants are usually passed on from one generation to another, but individuals do not inherit a fixed set. So for instance, just because two people belong to the same family does not mean that they will be predisposed to the same genetic diseases. Given that each one of them is inheriting the variants at different rates, it is hard to predict which of the variants will belong to a certain lineage and by extension race or ethnic group. If the case was to the contrary, life would have been so predictable by now.

Unfortunately, this perception has been with us for a while and it may be hard to get rid of it soon we are probably too conditioned towards racial profiling. Fifty years after the country abolished any form of racial discrimination, we still have a few people, who are yet to accept that all men are born equal. Matters are not made any better by the fact that consequences of historical injustices on the coloreds are yet to be fully redressed. That failure has left a good majority of them marginalized, and this has, in some way, made it hard for the perception of them being an inferior race to go away.

Why we study non human primates
A while ago, a group of non human primates were captured crossing a river with one of them (presumably the man) using something that looked like a walking stick. That sighting generated a lot of enthusiasm from the scientists because that was the first time such a thing had been sighted. Primates are very close relatives to human beings and studying them can help paleoanthropologists understand man better. Humans share a common ancestor with the other primates. They seem to have common traits in their existence. They both subscribe to the family unit and enjoy playing.

Understanding the behavior of these animals will ultimately help us gain deeper knowledge of humans. For instance, humans have closer relationships with other primates such as chimpanzees more than the orangutan. In studying the non human primates, it is in the interest of the paleoanthropologists to notice the differences between the primates and be able to see how the behaviors resemble those of the humans. One would study attributes such as how the animal socializes, territoriality of the animal amongst other important characteristics that may be used to understand both collective and particular primal behavior.

Evolution theory
Indeed, there seems to be a consensus that evolution must have taken place, but scientists differ as to how it took place. As far as human origin is concerned, two theories have emerged as the most credible evolution and creation. While it may be true that both are yet to prove beyond any reasonable doubt the truth in their claims, creation is yet to come with any concrete proof to show how creatures came to be. Scientists on their part have managed to collect fossils, reconstruct them, date them and even classify them. Creationists have continued to emphasize on the importance of faith for anyone willing to lend them an ear.

That has given the scientists some level of surety because by relying on faith rather than hard quantifiable evidence, creationists have failed to provide a credible challenge to the evolution theory. That has then left the scientists arguing amongst themselves as to who is correct pertaining the evolution theory. In other words, scientists are sure of their theory because there is no credible challenge.

Without the oppositionists, these students of Charles Darwin have failed to agree among themselves the correct position regarding how and when evolution took place. Elements of these arguments are not easy to verify as well because even non-professionals have joined the debate, sometimes turning it in to one based on subjectivity. Unlike other typical laboratory experiments, it is near important to recreate things as they were a few millions ago. On that, we can say that the scientists have no way of building a foolproof case to support their clam.

What happened to Neanderthals
Neanderthals appeared between 35000 and 200,000 years ago. Their disappearance remains a mystery. Some of the speculative risks that have been advanced include the theory of survival for the fittest. It is sometimes argued this species failed to adapt to the changing environment, thus failed to survive. Another school of thought has it the group was wiped out by a disease because a good number inspected showed traces of arthritis. Another contention is that the creatures were attacked by its cousins, the Homo sapiens. This is also according to Tattersall, who cites the arrival of the Homo sapiens in Eastern Europe as the beginning of the demise of the group (Tattersall and Schwartz).

On the other hand, Erick Trinkaus, a leading Neanderthal and human expert appears to concur with the theory of extinction but takes a different route in explaining it. According to him, the Neanderthal man became extinct by his genes being diluted by the Homo sapiens (Melville). If we are to go by his story, then each of us has a Neanderthal gene, in fact, it did not become extinct, it just combined its genes with the Homo Sapiens. To stake his claim, Trinkaus picks on the human characteristics that he believes are derived from Neanderthals. For him however, the current human has more oddities than the Neanderthal species.

Suffice it to say that if we did not have the Neanderthal gene, we would have too many oddities. Some of the oddities according to him are lack of brow bridges and having shortened faces  (Melville).

I however, want to disagree with Trinkaus, even as I respect his authority as a leading Neanderthal paleoanthropologists. In proving his claim Tattersall, seeks to prove that some of the characteristics are not necessarily the result of an interaction between the Neanderthal and the modern man. I am for the idea that the two groups could have been a bit genetically isolated to the extent of not breeding. The Neanderthal species could then have died a natural death. I would compare the relationship between the two to the one that exists between some of the species in the ape family of apes. They may appear to have a close relationship, but can never breed.


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