Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Another new hominid?

On the heels of the Denisova hominin mtDNA sequence comes this somewhat cryptic article in the Telegraph from Saturday:
Missing link between man and apes found

On Sunday, the same author (Richard Gray) gave us this article, which is far less informative about the actual fossil:
Fossil could rewrite human evolution

The first article describes a juvenile hominid skeleton from South Africa discovered by Lee Berger from University of the Witwatersrand. The skeleton is supposed to "be identified as a new species that fits somewhere between Australopithicus [sic] and Homo habilis." Gray writes:
Palaeontologists and human evolutionary experts behind the discovery have remained silent about the exact details of what they have uncovered, but the scientific community is already abuzz with anticipation of the announcement of the find when it is made on Thursday.
Thursday, eh? That's the same day that Nature traditionally publishes. Might we expect a formal paper this Thursday?

Regarding the second headline above, whatever this fossil is, it is unlikely to "rewrite human evolution." If it's something like a Homo habilis or Australopithecus africanus, then at best it will change our understanding of the relationship of "early" Homo and certain australopiths. It will not change our understanding of Ardipithecus, Paranthropus, other Australopithecus species, Neanderthals, erectines, the Flores hobbit, or even the new Denisova hominin.

Meanwhile, check back later this week to see what comes of this report. I certainly hope we get a Nature paper and not just a press conference. I am eager to see what Berger and colleagues have uncovered.