John Hawks, Homo naledi discoverer, discusses whether he’s identified new species

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We’ve gotten lots of feedback on the new species Homo naledi. Most has been enormously positive, a little bit has been critical. In particular, a few scientists have come forward with criticism of the idea that H. naledi is really a new species. Fortunately I can address those criticisms easily by pointing to some easy-to-find answers.

First off, is H. naledi two different species? It has a mosaic of features that include some that compare most closely to more primitive australopiths, and others that compare more closely toHomo. How do we know that this is one species rather than a jumble of species mixed together? Simple: every feature that is repeated in the sample is nearly identical in all individuals that preserve it. It would be very strange to have a mix of different species where all seven proximal femora come from one species, while all of a dozen lower third premolars come from a different species.

Second, how are we to know that Homo naledi is not the same as a primitive, small Homo erectus? Well, for one thing, at least two H. naledi individuals have endocranial volumes around 460 cc, much smaller than any H. erectus cranium ever found. There is barely any overlap between the larger individuals and H. erectus, with only a single H. erectus specimen coming close to the H. naledi range of variation in volume.

Read full, original post: Is Homo naledi just a primitive version of Homo erectus?

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