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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Homo Vasconensis (or, in which it is confirmed that Diana is a huge dork)

Anthropology may be proving the Basques right (unless you're a lumper). See, the paleontological discoveries at Sierra Atapuerca in Burgos in northern Spain are, according to their finders, a species apart from both earlier and later versions of Homo. It is purported that the skulls of Gran Dolina Boy and others are neither Homo erectus nor Homo heidelbergensis but another species: Homo antecessor, the ancestor to the neanderthal and sapiens lines.

There could be something to it; the bones identified as antecessor are the oldest yet found in Europe, save for the fascinating transitionary fossils found at Dmanisi in Georgia. Since the trendy line of thinking utilizes heidelbergensis as the probable antecedent to sapiens and neanderthalensis, the even older fossils at Atapuerca and La Gran Dolina are the logical predecessor to the heidelbergensis finds from various sites in Europe.

Well gee! Dating from 1.2m to 800,000ya, antecessor seems to live up to its name...if it isn't an offshoot of ergaster or the same species as heidelbergensis. Really, it depends on what side of the model and assignment arguments you're standing. Juan Luis Arsuaga, one of the antecessor discoverers, even claims that the species living in Spain commanded a symbolic, logical language. Associated tool findings show an Acheulian assemblage, indicating a dispersal out of Africa. Antecessor's proponents declare it to be the last common ancestor to both Neanderthals and early moderns--and thus, the ancestor to ourselves.

And look where it's located...right up there near the Basque country. Though situated in Castile-Leon, Burgos is close enough to Euzkadi's borders to be more than coincidental, don't you think? Maybe the famous Basque declaration of "first humans in Europe" isn't too far-fetched after all. I'm betting by and large that Basque anthropologists are splitters. While more of a lumper myself, I think it's about time we stopped using erectus (and by extension, ergaster and heidelbergensis) as a dumping ground. In this case, I may be willing to suspend my suspicions of carefree splitting--even if that willingness is due more to my fondness for Basque cake than paleoanthropological evidence.
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