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1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests Three Early Human Species Were One

timothy posted about 9 months ago | from the sounds-like-beatles-lyrics dept.

Earth 168

ananyo writes "A 1.8 million-year-old human skull dramatically simplifies the textbook story of human evolution, suggesting what were thought to be three distinct species of early human (Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus) was just one. 'Skull 5', along with four other skulls from the same excavation site at Dmanisi, Georgia, also shows that early humans were as physically diverse as we are today (paper abstract)."

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168 comments

The Problem (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173377)

The problem isn't whether there were different species in the human family tree. The problem is we've become Homo Violentis and are going to wipe ourselves out.

And let's not forget that once we finish off this planet that no one will be around to see our skulls protruding from an outcropping.

Re:The Problem (2, Insightful)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 9 months ago | (#45173609)

Yeah, yeah, sure. We've become such an awful species now, compared to the enlightened past when slavery and genocide were considered a-ok.

Re:The Problem (3, Funny)

flyneye (84093) | about 9 months ago | (#45174563)

Put on some Speed Stick and you wouldn't be so awful.
I'm just delighted to be able to explain the ridge brow, knuckle draggers I've had to cover for all my life.
Of course these species are one. Still are! As are Homerus Erectus,(average hominids) Gluteus Rex,(species attracted to elected office) Rattus Habilis,(law enforcement and judicial hairy lizards) various mamosauruses (double breasted rod suckers) and ptero shrews( pinchy face complainers).
I can't get down the street for herds of them making nuisances of themselves all day long. We need a hunting season...

Re:The Problem (0)

YoungManKlaus (2773165) | about 9 months ago | (#45174997)

well ... for population control (which would reduce ressouce need) there is nothing better than having people either starve, kill each other or die of dissease (black death) - or preferably all-in-one.

Re:The Problem (1)

johnsnails (1715452) | about 9 months ago | (#45173639)

Re:The Problem (1)

abdullah (646681) | about 9 months ago | (#45173863)

Similar scientific comparison - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34yAgtlCp0A [youtube.com] , warning its about an hour long though

Re:The Problem (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 9 months ago | (#45175373)

Heh. Bucaille is a dimwit, and a beautiful example how even supposedly smart people can be scammed.

Re:The Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45175525)

Why is he a dimwit ?

Re:The Problem (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 9 months ago | (#45175645)

Because as a scientist, he should have been able to recognize the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Come on, this is high school stuff! The level of senility that would make you forget the most basic principles should force you into retirement, and not into making public speeches.

Re:The Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45175565)

This article is one good example of how supposedly smart people can be scammed and can scam others, Bucaille is entitled to his scientific opinion.

Re:The Problem (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 9 months ago | (#45175701)

I've always held it suspicious how the supposed ancestral and sibling species to Homo sapiens exploded in numbers in the recent decades, based on such fragmentary finds. I think I'm entitled to some gleeful Schadenfreude right now. B-) Now, mind you, this will be contested, and there's a serious chance that these scientists will be proven wrong to a large extent. But one has to wonder how many of the currently recognized hominid species are fictional. We've seen that happen before in paleontology; it's not like this would be something new.

Re:The Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173883)

Ray's an idiot. Better to bring Aliester Crowley to a physics convention.

Re:The Problem (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 9 months ago | (#45174593)

Not a problem, I'll let him know, he's over at Ozzy and Sharons for tarot poker.
I'll see your Crowley and raise you one Lovecraft as a Seminary lecturer.

Re:The Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174763)

Meanwhile, Ray is still an idiot.

Does this support creationism? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173391)

Do one species of human and scientific Adam support creationism?

Re:Does this support creationism? (2)

abdullah (646681) | about 9 months ago | (#45173649)

No, but It highlights that more scientific rigor is needed around evolution theory, something like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoMAp8Q7nZM [youtube.com] supports creationism

Re:Does this support creationism? (2)

Shavano (2541114) | about 9 months ago | (#45175017)

Both proponents of creationism and anthropologists agree that all living humans must have one common male ancestor at some point. They Y-MRCA (most recent ancestor of all y-chromosomes, and the guy who had it) is estimated to have lived sometime between 140,000 and 300,000 years ago. That would probably make him H. sapiens because sapiens has been around for about 200,000 years. However, we can't be sure. If the oldest date is right, he might have been h. heidelbergensis.

Obligatory creationism troll. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173399)

What! Science says that there were three different species of humans, now it says that there was only one. See. Scientists keep changing their mind. How could you put your faith in them? Put your faith in Jesus, God and read the bible instead. The truth in bible doesn't change over time, unlike science. Creationism triumphs over evolution once again.

Re:Obligatory creationism troll. (0)

nospam007 (722110) | about 9 months ago | (#45173439)

"What! Science says that there were three different species of humans, now it says that there was only one."

Just as the Homo Scientificus. He has a tendency to believe that any piece of bone he finds is a new species to bring him fame.

Re:Obligatory creationism troll. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173481)

"What! Science says that there were three different species of humans, now it says that there was only one."

Just as the Homo Scientificus. He has a tendency to believe that any piece of bone he finds is a new species to bring him fame.

...or perhaps the OP goes to prove that God develops through trial and error and not "perfect creation".

Said another way, perhaps God was just "messin about one day" just to see what could be created?

Re:Obligatory creationism troll. (2)

flyneye (84093) | about 9 months ago | (#45174749)

No no, Homerus Scientificus. He tends to believe any piece of bone he finds still has meat on it. mmmmmmmmmmm

Re:Obligatory creationism troll. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173631)

White men were created by God resembling Him.
Blacks and Muslims devolved from monkeys.

Jesus wasn't white (3, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | about 9 months ago | (#45173761)

God's own son wasn't especially white. The Bible makes it clear that he looked like a typical Galilean Jew; otherwise, he would have found it a lot harder to mix with crowds.

Re:Jesus wasn't white (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174267)

do you mean it resembled more a mix between MLK and indira gandhi ???

oh well... I suppose they crucified it for a reason...

(Anyway,he was God's' son so he was blonde and blue eyed and GOD IS WITH US)

Re:Jesus wasn't white (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45175623)

He still got called "Honky" a lot, but that was a jab at his incurable flatulence.

Re:Obligatory creationism troll. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173795)

The face of God, or whatever you call a supreme being, You have seen? I haven't yet. So I'll suppose you are founding a new religion, that says the above. Now show us your humanity, by not building a rock to stand upon, and cast fishes too the people. Show them the way is to hide in their houses in a closet. And be afraid of life.

Re:Obligatory creationism troll. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174313)

I stand with some South Park episodes as a reference.
They have the same scientifical value than the whole Quran and the Bible put together.
Maybe even more.

Re:Obligatory WTF (1)

thunderclap (972782) | about 9 months ago | (#45173919)

White men were created by God resembling Him.
Blacks and Muslims devolved from monkeys.

I am unsure this was intentional or not. It says devolved from Monkeys. Meaning Monkeys were higher on the evolutionary ladder. To be accurate: He is suggesting that current blacks are actually monkeys and current monkeys are evolved blacks.

Re:Obligatory WTF (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174223)

It was intentional.

One might wonder: if there were three or more species in the past, why should we believe that today we have only one human specie?

They can be inter-generating like Nehanderthals and Cro-Magnons were, but nevertheless DIFFERENT.

That's why paki are litigious and messy, blacks are high on pot and jews are... well, jews...

Good-bye melting pot.

Re:Obligatory WTF (1)

labawi (2931497) | about 9 months ago | (#45174351)

I am unsure this was intentional or not. It says devolved from Monkeys. Meaning Monkeys were higher on the evolutionary ladder. To be accurate: He is suggesting that current blacks are actually monkeys and current monkeys are evolved blacks.

I would suggest that devolution would have positive descendance, but the change is negative. So the named people would be retarded monkeys

Re:Obligatory creationism troll. (1, Flamebait)

Chemisor (97276) | about 9 months ago | (#45174067)

> Put your faith in Jesus

You mean put your faith in God who is both one and three at the same time? It seems this finding can disprove your entire religion.

Re:Obligatory creationism troll. (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 9 months ago | (#45174525)

What! Science says that there were three different species of humans, now it says that there was only one. See. Scientists keep changing their mind. How could you put your faith in them?

Science evolves, based on the results of new experiments, and the acquisition of new information.

Religious doctrine on the other hand; always stays the same, even when factual information proves something wrong.

For example: it was proven that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun.

Put your faith in Jesus, by all means. But don't be a dogmatic moron, and think that your religion tells you what all the historic and physical facts are.

Jesus never said anything about God having created everything directly with a wave of the hand, not through any indirect mysterious processes such as evolution.

Re:Obligatory creationism troll. (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 9 months ago | (#45174723)

uh-hmrm. I was just scrolling by, minding my own business; when I saw your little faux passe about the truth in the Bible not changing over time.
Apparently , you never knew any of the controversy over the ages of translation mistakes, both accidental and political, the entire Septuagint rewritten from memory by Ezra while whacked out of his skull on the ancient "cup of fire" entheogen tea. The whittling down of the 600 or so books by the Catholic church for oftimes whimsical and political reasons to establish themselves over the several other factions of Christians present at the time.(Genocides followed, guess we know that tree by its fruit.Ask a Jew) How about the large amount of truth cut out of the King James Version itself? That started out many books larger than the condensed version in your mitts now. Gee, maybe we couldn't take all that truth. We should let submorons who aren't fit to decide how the solar system works, decide important things in our lives.
Creationism could even mean there were established hominid species and Adam and Eve were created separately with self awareness and souls to differentiate them while allowing sexual compatibility with Fred Flintstone. Who knows, you sure as hell don't. I guess it's not as important as you think, unless you want to just cause chaos amongst people who can't tell the difference between rooting for a sports team and finding truth in philosophy. It's always about "being right" no matter what, with no regard for the unknown, conflicting data or the MESSAGE BEHIND ALL THE FUSS!

Here'e the problem (2, Insightful)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about 9 months ago | (#45173411)

A nice example of the problems with using a point in time technique like taxonomy and applying it to an extended period of time. There's no single point where one species transforms into another, this is a very slow process. Any given sample, depending on where it is on the timeline, could belong to two different species. All the homo this and homo that is pretty much a waste of time, or so it seems to me.

Re:Here'e the problem (4, Insightful)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | about 9 months ago | (#45173483)

It is not exactly like that. It is rather that any given sample along one line, regardless where it is on the timeline, belongs to only one and the same species, regardless of evolutionary change! A new species is _only_ formed when one line is split into two lines. And even more surprising, to many, then is that neither is the same species as their ancestor, for solely technical reasons.

Re:Here'e the problem (3, Insightful)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about 9 months ago | (#45173513)

You are correct, I think I should have clarified by saying that the point on the timeline where a new species is formed is entirely arbitrary, and an individual at that point is wholly compatible with some number of generations to either side.

Re:Here'e the problem (4, Interesting)

brunes69 (86786) | about 9 months ago | (#45173657)

The true definition of species is a group that can and do inter-breed to make offspring. So, the line actually *IS* very clear cut... as soon as a mutation occurs that branches one set so they can no longer reproduce with the other, it is a new species. The problem is, determining that point in history using only archeology is very difficult and full of guesswork. Even if you have the DNA from all 3 sides of the tree, we aren't adept enough yet to be able to look at two pieces of DNA and say "yes these two could reproduce and make viable offspring", vs. "yes these two could reproduce but their offspring would all be sterile". That is when you form a new species.

Offspring of a mule (3, Informative)

gd2shoe (747932) | about 9 months ago | (#45173755)

We like to think that it's clear-cut. When it's not, we quibble over just how to redefine "clear-cut".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mule#Fertility

It seems we may be at the very tail end of Horse/Donkey differentiation.

(Yes this is an assumption on my part, but I doubt there's good reason to think otherwise. A case to demonstrate this for more than two generations is probably too statistically unlikely to ask for. It might conceivably be possible to get Donkey genes into the Horse population with a couple of really lucky generations. IANAG)

Re:Offspring of a mule (2)

brunes69 (86786) | about 9 months ago | (#45173967)

I don't see how this contradicts the traditional definition of a species. Mules are infertile. Therefore they would not survive as a species in the first place if it were not for human breeders. They would just be essentially one-offs that happened occasionally in the wild, and die off. This is how evolution works; the mule would not be a successful species evolutionarily speaking.

Re:Here'e the problem (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 9 months ago | (#45173757)

The true definition of species is a group that can and do inter-breed to make offspring.

It's not as simple as that.

So, the line actually *IS* very clear cut... as soon as a mutation occurs that branches one set so they can no longer reproduce with the other, it is a new species.

What mechanism do you propose for causing the same (or at least compatible) changes in all the group at the same time? It's pretty unlikely to happen by chance.

Re:Here'e the problem (2)

brunes69 (86786) | about 9 months ago | (#45173991)

Normally what causes the group to become differentiated is not a matter of "all at the same time". Groups become differentiated because they stop cross-breeding outside the group, due to either environmental or social barriers. Over time, these isolated groups develop their own mutations that are specific to them. And over an even longer period of time, they would not be able to reproduce with animals in the other group. It's no different than the process that resulted in humans evolving different feature sets in different regions of the wold, because of isolation... if humans had remained isolated and never developed technology, then eventually we would have split into many different species.

Re:Here'e the problem (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 9 months ago | (#45174669)

The true definition of species is a group that can and do inter-breed to make offspring. So, the line actually *IS* very clear cut... as soon as a mutation occurs that branches one set so they can no longer reproduce with the other, it is a new species.

That's one form of speciation. Another form, is some of the species settle in a different region --- with a very larger distance between two groups of the same species, they will become a different species, because they don't interbreed: even if they are still physically able to breed --- they won't.

They'll meet the can requirement, but because they are separated by distance they won't; failing the can and do requirement.

Re:Here'e the problem (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 9 months ago | (#45175185)

That is not the true definition of species. Wolves and coyotes can interbreed, but are still considered two different species by almost all taxonomists. At the same time Great Danes and Chihuahuas cannot directly interbreed, and yet are both simply considered subspecies of C. lupis.

The notion of "species" is largely a human construct; an idea of convenience. Once you get to the Genus level, things start getting very muddied.

Re:Here'e the problem (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 9 months ago | (#45176313)

It's not as clear cut as all that either. When you take two populations that have been separated for a long time, they may be fully interfertile or they may have various degrees of ferility. For instance, horses and donkeys can have crosses (mules or more rarely hinnies) and sometimes female mules are fertile. Dogs are are still fully interfertile with wolves, but they have different physical and behavioral (esp. breeding) characteristics. They're also interfertile to some degree with coyotes, but those hybrids have more genetic problems and lower fertility than normal coyotes or dogs. (The same is true of jackals.)

So it appears that loss of fertility between populations with shared ancestry is not typically abrupt and species may continue to have some gene exchange even after their genetics have become distinct.

There is now solid evidence that Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred with humans long ago in Eurasia and most of us (all except maybe Africans) have Neanderthal as well as early H. sapiens ancestors, but most of everyone's ancestry is from a population of anatomically modern folks who evolved in Africa.

Of course, we pretty limited evidence to go on, but it's safe to say that as long as Neanderthals existed as a separate type alongside of H. sapiens, the interfertility must have been limited, certainly more than mules but maybe not so smooth as dogs vs. coyotes.

And then there's sasquatch. Admit it, you didn't know I was going there but you're glad I did. Nobody knows how closely related sasquatch were to modern humans, denisovans or heidelbergensis.

Re: Here'e the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173719)

Half breeds: Mule, Beefaloes, Liger, Zebroids, Grolar Bears, Wholphins, etc.

Re: Here'e the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45176195)

You forgot to add Obama to that list.

Re:Here'e the problem (5, Interesting)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 9 months ago | (#45173731)

A new species is _only_ formed when one line is split into two lines.

Yes, but pinpointing the "split", is quite a problem [wikipedia.org] . You don't need fossils to show this 'problem', it can be seen in what are known as "ring species" that are alive today.

Basically one species spreads both directions along a circular geological boundary. Despite the fact that all individuals along the expanding route can breed with the different races on either side of them, when the two expanding ends of the population meet at the other side of the boundary, they have become distinct species that can no longer interbreed. There is no point along the genetic line where the species forked, yet fork they did since each "end" of the route is a different species.

Another more linear example (like the fossil record) are the changes that occur as a species expands it's range up a tall mountain, there's a continuum of slight genetic variations from the species at the bottom of the mountain to the (different) species at the top. Again, there is no point on the genetic continuum where it can be said the species "split".

Re:Here'e the problem (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 9 months ago | (#45175217)

The issues is also whether there is in fact any split at all. So far as we know, there have been damned few hominid species who have been truly isolated. Gene flow may have been fairly small, but it seems likely that even with H. erectus in Eurasia, there must have been some small amount of gene flow. We even have some evidence from nuclear DNA studies that there was possibly interbreeding between Neandertals and Moderns. Where even a relatively low level of gene flow is maintained, there is a fairly good chance that speciation will not occur.

Re:Here'e the problem (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 9 months ago | (#45175173)

I don't agree with this at all. Even where a population never diverges, almost certainly speciation can and does occur, if you at least invoke simplistic (and obviously not entirely correct) notions like interfertility.

Simple (1, Insightful)

symes (835608) | about 9 months ago | (#45173421)

Simpler is almost always better - and I for one am pleased to see our past more neatly explained. I worry about our willingness to complicate things in the name of science, sometimes.

Re:Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173533)

our willingness to complicate things in the name of science

Your "in the name of science" is completely wrong. Scientists are taught about Occam's razor (principle of parsimony) and favor simpler explanations. Here, they first thought the situation might be complex, then everybody is very pleased to see how new data allow a simpler understanding.

Re:Simple (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 9 months ago | (#45173567)

I don't know, can you explain the differences between hominoidea, hominoidae, and hominini in scientific terms that don't make my eyes want to gouge my brain out?

I know what they are, it's just a headache keeping them strait or learning more then a simple understanding,

Maybe an anomaly (1)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | about 9 months ago | (#45173491)

Not sure I'd want all the text books to be re-written based on a single find. How do they know the skull5 wasn't due to some genetic defect?

Re:Maybe an anomaly (5, Informative)

Patch86 (1465427) | about 9 months ago | (#45173663)

That's pretty much the problem for the whole field. There are so few complete specimens (we're talking dozens, rather than hundreds) and they're generally so diverse geographically and chronologically that is becomes very difficult to say whether something was "species wide" or just individual variance. So you find a 4 foot tall skeleton on an island and you might be tempted to say "I've found a new miniature-species of human!", conveniently forgetting the fact that you only have one skeleton and dwarfism is a relatively common feature of the only human population we have a good sample of (modern us). That skeleton could have been the only 4 foot tall adult within a 100 mile and 100 year radius, and yet there's no way of telling unless you can find more specimens that agree or disagree. And those specimens may simply not exist to be found.

I've always found fields like archaeology & palaeontology particularly fascinating for this reason. It's one of the few areas of science where there will be some things that simply CANNOT be known, because no evidence has survived of it and we can't ever study the past directly. It is one of the only areas of modern study where there is a real sense of mystery that will never and can never be lifted. Every little discovery we make is like finding a single piece of a 100 million piece jigsaw- you learn something, but the balance of things not known is still colossal.

Re:Maybe an anomaly (1)

Alomex (148003) | about 9 months ago | (#45174285)

there is a real sense of mystery that will never and can never be lifted.

Never is a very long time.

I can go back to my childhood and make a long list of "we will never know" things that we know now, starting with the Titanic. I've read several books saying how we would never reach since it was at depths much beyond what divers and submersibles could reach, and in a span of ocean too vast to be effectively searched. Yet here we are, retrieving artifacts from the bottom of the sea.

I can give many other examples.

Re:Maybe an anomaly (2)

Patch86 (1465427) | about 9 months ago | (#45175531)

That's sort of my point. It's idiotic to say that we can never reach the bottom of the ocean- that's just an engineering problem. And while it's possible that it could be a "never" for humans travelling to other stars, never is indeed a very long time.

But history is different. Barring time travel, if evidence for something hasn't survived, there is simply no way of knowing it. There might have been a really interesting species existing somewhere once with some really fascinating features and which could tell us a lot about evolution in its relative species. But fossils only form in really specific circumstances, and even once they're formed they only survive if they're left undisturbed. What if the local geography is fossil unfriendly, and not a single member of the species has left remains to be found today? We will simply never know it existed. And I mean properly never. It is knowledge that is lost to us and cannot ever be obtained. Similarly, want to know what language was spoken by the people of stone age Britain? Tough, you can't- they didn't write it down, and there is quite literally no way for you to know. Ever.

That's what's so mysterious and fascinating about it.

Re:Maybe an anomaly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174961)

That's HISTORY!

Homo erectus- isn't he still with us? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173497)

http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Homo_erectus_new.JPG

Looks remarkably familiar...

Anybody?

Why is it that when evolutionists show a picture of an ape and a human, to show we EVOLVED from apes, they never use a BLACK human? LOL.

1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests ... (4, Funny)

mrwolf007 (1116997) | about 9 months ago | (#45173575)

Man, the real story here is the skull.

It dont really care what it suggests, the mere fact it was talking is creepy...

Re:1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests ... (1)

znrt (2424692) | about 9 months ago | (#45173717)

Man, the real story here is the skull.

the majority of audience here is us-american and the "debate" around creationism is a typical and unique us-american meme, it's kind of a ritual they pull off at every occasion. for the first 30 seconds it can even be funny. if you take it seriously it quickly becomes creepy.

Re:1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173745)

Not as creepy as a talking skull!

Re:1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests ... (2)

mrwolf007 (1116997) | about 9 months ago | (#45173747)

Actually i was just poking fun at the title, for claiming "1.8 Million-Year-Old skull Suggests ..." instead of reading "Scientists studying 1.8 million year old skull suggest ...".

Re:1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests ... (2)

znrt (2424692) | about 9 months ago | (#45173923)

ok, thanks, guys.
to my skull: woosh!

Re:1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174243)

ROTFL!!!!

Re:1.8 Million-Year-Old Skull Suggests ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174857)

At least it only suggested. That last one that Louise Leakey found just blathered on and on....

Stuff we know and stuff we assume (2, Interesting)

cripkd (709136) | about 9 months ago | (#45173635)

I really have question and then it's not ironic or rethoric.
How do scientists know, when it comes to any prehistoric animal or human skeleton, when an individual becomes to a new species, to some sort of missing link or just-split subspecies, and not just a slightly different individual belonging to a known species?
I mean how do they know when a lightly larger bump on a skull is not normal variation and it's for sure a new species where all individuals will have that bump?
What puzzles me is that we find like 0.00000000001 of all living individuals from that time and species and yet we know it's relevant.

Re:Stuff we know and stuff we assume (2, Insightful)

gd2shoe (747932) | about 9 months ago | (#45173789)

How do scientists know, when it comes to any prehistoric animal or human skeleton, when an individual becomes to a new species, to some sort of missing link or just-split subspecies, and not just a slightly different individual belonging to a known species?

When it permits them to publish a paper.

No, I'm serious. When I was in school, the best lecturer in the department was almost canned because the department didn't want to give him tenure. Their excuse? (among other things) He didn't publish enough.

The pressure to publish is enormous, often to the detriment of real science.

Re:Stuff we know and stuff we assume (1)

jonathonjones (844293) | about 9 months ago | (#45175563)

At a research institution, the primary responsibility of professors is to advance their subject through research and publishing. Teaching is secondary. So it is entirely appropriate and normal for such an institution to fire a professor for not publishing enough.

Re:Stuff we know and stuff we assume (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 9 months ago | (#45173793)

How do scientists know, when it comes to any prehistoric animal or human skeleton, when an individual becomes to a new species, to some sort of missing link or just-split subspecies, and not just a slightly different individual belonging to a known species?

The short answer is that there are standards, but this field is an imperfect science, and finds like this, as well as DNA testing do redefine species lines. But does it really matter? A few changes to the ultimate family tree, here and there, doesn't fundamentally change any scientific theories, and probably has zero impact on you. Just consider it the margin of error...

Re:Stuff we know and stuff we assume (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173901)

I really have question and then it's not ironic or rethoric.

How do scientists know, when it comes to any prehistoric animal or human skeleton, when an individual becomes to a new species, to some sort of missing link or just-split subspecies, and not just a slightly different individual belonging to a known species?

I mean how do they know when a lightly larger bump on a skull is not normal variation and it's for sure a new
species where all individuals will have that bump?

What puzzles me is that we find like 0.00000000001 of all living individuals from that time and species and yet we know it's relevant.

I suppose the best answer, really, would be to read the papers in question.

Re:Stuff we know and stuff we assume (3, Insightful)

rasmusbr (2186518) | about 9 months ago | (#45173985)

I think they look at the complete picture and make their best guess based on all the evidence that they have and the best models that they have. The species concept is also inherently fuzzy. I'm not a biologist, but I've been told it can be fairly hard to tell if two living organisms are of the same species or not. Obviously, we should not expect perfect certainty about individuals that died 2 million years ago.

Scientists never really know anything, because knowing something with full certainty is an absurd idea. When it comes to the distant past our best hope is to be able to paint a rough picture. Of course, advances in chemistry and physics may make it possible to analyze fossils at the molecular and atomic level and find out all sorts of amazing things about them that were previously thought impossible, but even then the whole detailed picture will always elude science.

Creationists love this, but the problem with biblical creationism and Islamic creationism is that if there was a global flood 4000 years ago there would still be a global flood today, because there is nowhere for the water to go. Also, the moon missions would have crashed into the firmament that holds the flood gates to the waters beyond when they orbited the moon since the moon is attached to the firmament. It's funny that there are grown men that hold on to early iron age beliefs about the cosmos...

Re:Stuff we know and stuff we assume (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 9 months ago | (#45175051)

man you can't really argue with creationists about the flood since they can say that god drank the water or threw the water into the sun.

for further points, see my sig.

as to how scientists make decisions if some skeleton with deformed legs is a new species or not.. they make educated guesses, based on how the joints are laid out etc. as such history - biological or cultural - tends not to be an exact science but best guess science.

Re:Stuff we know and stuff we assume (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 9 months ago | (#45175239)

Short answer... They don't, not directly anyways. What they do use is techniques like comparative anatomy to determine if a substantial morphological differentiation in existing closely related species similar to those found in fossils represent two different species. But really, the idea of species is somewhat a convenience even in extant populations.

Spare me! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173667)

You people are absolute fools if you believe any of this evolution hype! In the end, you are not going to be able to plead ignorance. The only thing you will be able to hope in is to evolve a pain resistant skin. You made your choice in rejecting God for a theory. Now you are going to see that you were horribly wrong. Don't try to blame God for the state you end up in. He gave you ample warning through prophets through the scriptures long ago. You are going to be solely responsible for dying in your own sins and there will never be anyone again to help you. You made the choice to believe in evolution and now you will pay the price.

Re:Spare me! (1)

Mr D from 63 (3395377) | about 9 months ago | (#45173713)

You forgot to close with the obligatory "MUAHAHAHA!"

Re: Spare me! (1)

Vanderhoth (1582661) | about 9 months ago | (#45173725)

I'm not religious, but I don't understand why evolution couldn't be a mechanism created by God? Science and religion don't have to be mutually exclusive. I had a science teacher who was religious when I lived in NC who told me the way he looked at it was God created the rules, but left it to us to figure them out. Science is just the method we use to do that.

Re: Spare me! (1)

dosius (230542) | about 9 months ago | (#45173805)

I tend to agree on that. Admittedly I'm an "old earth creationist" who believes that there was a "re-creation" or repopulation after a cataclysmic event, but I accept that from the point that life started here, it has not been stagnant, and has been changing and mutating in ways one might call evolution.

Day-age creationism (2)

tepples (727027) | about 9 months ago | (#45173821)

Yeah, I'm with you. I believe in day-age creationism [wikipedia.org] , that the "days" of Genesis 1 correspond to periods up to billions of years. The Bible makes it clear in 2 Peter 3:8 [pineight.com] that time periods from God's point of view aren't necessarily literal, and before the emergence of Homo on the sixth creative day, God's was the only point of view. Even English has idioms like "the good old days" and "back in the day". This and God's use of evolution as a tool [wikipedia.org] show no big conflict between Genesis and the fossil record.

Re:Day-age creationism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173949)

Yeah, I'm with you. I believe in day-age creationism [wikipedia.org] , that the "days" of Genesis 1 correspond to periods up to billions of years. The Bible makes it clear in 2 Peter 3:8 [pineight.com] that time periods from God's point of view aren't necessarily literal, and before the emergence of Homo on the sixth creative day, God's was the only point of view. Even English has idioms like "the good old days" and "back in the day". This and God's use of evolution as a tool [wikipedia.org] show no big conflict between Genesis and the fossil record.

Genesis conflicts explicitly with science in the order of creation. Oceans, grass and plants, and day/night, by the third day, but stars not until the fourth.

Re:Day-age creationism (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 9 months ago | (#45175285)

A *literal* interpretation of Genesis conflicts explicitly with the science. I think it's important to point out that the poster you're responding to clearly does not interpret Genesis literally.

I have absolutely no debate, save perhaps on philosophical grounds, with a Christian who accepts the age of the universe, the Earth and with evolution. Obviously any kind of theistic evolutionist is going to assert that God guides the process to one degree or another, but providing they're not claiming there is scientific evidence to that effect, then really, they accept as I do that humans, and indeed all life evolved from a common ancestor.

Re:Day-age creationism (2)

Camel Pilot (78781) | about 9 months ago | (#45176369)

If God uses evolution as a tool ... Then this alleged Being is not Good and Omnipotent. Darwin when he fully started to understand that ramifications of his theory remarked that:

"What a book a Devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature!"

What sort of God would use evolution, lubricated with the blood, guts and unrelenting cruelty, as a means to bring about his favored species or race? Just doesn't make any sense.

Nevertheless Genesis is a earth centered creation story... told from a species centric position. I can't believe anyone would give it any stock or think it has some resemblance to reality. The one thing we do know is that the earth wasn't created first with the stars created at a latter date.

Re: Spare me! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174401)

True. I believe all laws of the universe can be created by God and therefore everything that is happening naturally can be thought of as God's will, and therefore it is indistunquishable and our fate etc dependant on some other power which is a power of nature power of fate power of God, call it whatever you like but it is the same Power which governs us all ... Makes sense to me.

Re: Spare me! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45175651)

Your proposition is incredibly subjective. You need to decide this for yourself. I do not read Slashdot to discuss the notions of how much influence an invisible pink unicorn had in the creation of a mechanism.

Re:Spare me! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173759)

Even if there were a god, I wouldn't submit to one as repugnant and evil as the god of the Bible.

I don't know (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 9 months ago | (#45173781)

We have found distinct groups, and we have called they species.
At the same time we know they could interbreed, and there was no reason why they would not intermingle at times.

Just because they found a few bones that were in-between these species does not suggest anything like, "these species never existed".

3 is now 1? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45173865)

Or maybe it is further proof that there was more cross breeding that what they previously thought. And here is a news flash. If it was closer to when the interbreeding occurred it would not be uncommon to have very contrasting features even between siblings. So while all the bodies in the burial area may be related. It does not mean that there was not originally 3 different species

Surprise (3, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 9 months ago | (#45173875)

I never knew before reading Slashdot how many "tech nerds" really hate science.

I wonder how many of them are angry because they couldn't cut it.

Re:Surprise (0)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 9 months ago | (#45173885)

Also, a surprising number of those who call themselves "skeptics" in the James Randi cult also resent science.

Simple rule: If science makes you certain, you're doing it wrong.

Re:Surprise (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 9 months ago | (#45175313)

Some things can be accepted with a high degree of certainty. It strikes me that it is almost certain that all life evolved from a common ancestor. It also strikes me as almost certain that the Earth and the other planets condensed out of a cloud of gas and material orbiting the young Sun. It also strikes me as certain that the observable universe was once very hot and very dense and began to expand and cool about 13.5 to 13.7 billion years ago.

There is not Truth in science, but there is something like provisional truth.

Re:Surprise (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 9 months ago | (#45175917)

a high degree of certainty. It strikes me that it is almost certain

"Almost" and a "high degree of certainty" are very different than the kind of certainty you find in certain circles.

Specifically, religious extremists and pop skeptics.

provisional truth.

But even that changes occasionally. Certainty is a trap.

Sad comment on the "science" .... (3, Interesting)

fygment (444210) | about 9 months ago | (#45173899)

5 skulls leading to pronouncements on the species and its evolution?!

5 of several tens or hundreds of thousands is not statistically significant.

This is why creationism can survive, because it at times makes as much sense as the extraordinary extrapolations tossed out by scientists.

Make it right. Demand that the scientists also share possible margins of error (in this case HUGE).

Re:Sad comment on the "science" .... (3, Insightful)

koan (80826) | about 9 months ago | (#45174099)

Science has a tendency to correct it's self, creationism does not, you see that's the trap of religion, in order to be valid it must remain unchanged.

Because if you change it.... =)

Re:Sad comment on the "science" .... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45174719)

5 skulls leading to pronouncements on the species and its evolution?!

In principle, it only takes one counterexample to disprove a hypothesis.

5 of several tens or hundreds of thousands is not statistically significant.

This is why creationism can survive, because it at times makes as much sense as the extraordinary extrapolations tossed out by scientists.

The skulls exist. They presumably can be explained. The paper proposes an explanation. If it's bullshit, future papers exploring the inferences will clarify that. Welcome to published science, where your incredulity means nothing.

Make it right. Demand that the scientists also share possible margins of error (in this case HUGE).

Margins of error are for measurements.

Re:Sad comment on the "science" .... (2)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 9 months ago | (#45175341)

The article has a few quotes from opposing viewpoints essentially calling bullshit.
Science will not change because of one data point or one opinion unless it is bulletproof, which almost never happens. The real problem is reporting, where data is simplified once for the reporter, again by the reporter, again by the headline, and probably once each by the editor and reader.
Go read the article, note both sides being represented, and admit how you simplified one person's report to mean all of science, and come back here to apologize for exactly the thing you are whinging about.

Re:Sad comment on the "science" .... (1)

devent (1627873) | about 9 months ago | (#45176291)

If you think the margins of error are huge if you have like you claim "5 of several tens or hundreds of thousands" like in palaeontology, what kind of error margins have you if it is "0 of several tens or hundreds of thousands", like in Creationism, infinite?
Because at least we have evidence in the faculty of palaeontology and in natural evolution, but none evidence for Creationism.

Doesn't matter (-1, Offtopic)

koan (80826) | about 9 months ago | (#45174089)

Only the most duplicitous, violent, brutal, and greedy species won out, and here we are today.

How much can bones tell ? (1)

raurau (207510) | about 9 months ago | (#45174835)

Amateur question here, but how much of the story can be learned just from bones ? All dogs are the same species for example, but their skeletons show such a huge variance that I bet they would be mistaken for multiple species.

Re: How much can bones tell ? (1)

dcraid (1021423) | about 9 months ago | (#45175873)

Interesting question, but I am afraid that the variation in size of dogs is due strictly to human intervention, to thousands of years of selective breeding. I cannot think of another species with such variance.

Color me completely unsurprised (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45175289)

In my Physical Anthro course 16 years ago, I specifically remember the prof lamenting H.habilis as a "wastebasket taxon". Don't know how it fits- throw it in there.

There is tremendous pressure on professors to find "new" species to secure funding. This leads to all kinds of taxonomic irregularities. Over time, though, these things tend to get smoothed out.

New name? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45175619)

Homo apatosaurus?

An online word masher suggests "Homo wibilysruwalfotsasohictid," which really rolls off the tongue.

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