Darwin-L Message Log 7:51 (March 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<7:51>From jacobsk@ERE.UMontreal.CA  Wed Mar 16 20:03:07 1994

From: jacobsk@ERE.UMontreal.CA (Jacobs Kenneth)
Subject: Re: H. erectus into H. sapiens (was re: Humanoid...)
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Wed, 16 Mar 1994 21:02:51 -0500 (EST)

Kent Holsinger writes:

> The multiregional hypothesis, as I understand it (and I'm not an
> anthropologist, so someone please correct me if I have misunderstood it),
> is that _H. erectus_ populations everywhere evolved simultaneously into _H.
> sapiens_.  Under this hypothesis _H. erectus_ and _H. sapiens_ were never
> contemporaneous, and _H. sapiens_ replaced _H. erectus_ only in the sense
> that _H. sapiens_ evolved from _H. erectus_.

	Part of the difficulty in envisioning "H. erectus evolving everywhere
_simultaneously_ into H. sapiens" is caused by semantics.  Because the start
point of the single lineage (on this view of the matter) has been given a
name which is distinct from the _end-point_ of the lineage (i.e., H. erectus
versus H. sapiens), one cannot help but tend to see what is called H. erectus
as being very distinct from what is called H. sapiens.  Yet in the middle some-
where, at the arbitrary point which divides the two taxonomic units, there will
be virtually no difference.  The difference between a 0.25Mya "H. erectus" and
a 0.24Mya "H. sapiens" will be 0.01My and not much else.  The taxonomic night-
mare which is late Middle Pleistocene Europe attests to just this phenomenon.

	Think of it in terms of a long, wide river (the Mississippi, for in-
stance).  If, for some bizarre reason, it was decided that from now on the
river south of St. Louis was to be called the Nile, would we then be arguing
whether the Mississippi turned into the Nile simulaneously on both the right
and left banks? (not to mention the middle).  I think not, for we would be able
to recognize the distinction as the arbitrary construct it really is.  That we
cannot do so quite so readily with respect to _H. erectus_, the "Neadertals,"
and others of our forebears bespeaks volumes IMHO about our persistent
inability to come to grips with our origins.

Ken Jacobs

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