Homo antiquus: Ferguson’s “Find” or “Folly”?

 

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(Pictured above: A skull of Australopithecus africanus)

 

Walter W. Ferguson (1984) argues that the discovery of several hominoid fossils in Hadar, Ethopia is a part of a new species, Homo antiquus.

Hadar or the Hadar Research Project Area is the widely accepted name for the archaeological site approximately 300 Km (180 Miles) northeast of Addis Ababa in the Afar Rift System of the Rift Valley of Africa. The Hadar ecology is one of mountain building, faults and volcanoes. The Hadar Formation is a major region of physical geography in Africa and is approximately 3.4 million to 3 million years old (Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, 2011).

The vast majority of the hominins found at Hadar have been attributed to Australopithecus afarensis on the basis of their dental and gnathic similarities to specimens from Laetoli. A small number of the hominin fossils found at Hadar have been attributed to Homo habilis (Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, 2011). Morphologically, the Hadar Homo denotes a pre-habilis stage of hominiae dentition distinctive for its small size and plesiomorphic features. Since Hadar Homo antiquus can thus be distinguished from Australiopithecus afarensis and the Hadar Homo on this basis. Positioned on the phylogenic bush between Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis and next to Australopithecus africanus, this new species is estimated to be between 2.3 million to 3 million years old (Carroll, 2003). After first publishing his findings, Ferguson updated his research to include the discovery of a new and earlier sub-species of Homo antiquus defined as Homo antiquus praegens (Ferguson, 1989).

Ferguson’s work isn’t so much controversial as it is not widely supported. Smithsonian Magazine in December of 2012 rated Homo antiquus as 1 of the 4 human ancestors most likely to be ignored. Still, the science behind human evolution during the Plio/Pleistocene Era is full of theories, gaps and knowledge and liberal hypotheses. Ferguson’s attempt to fill the phylogenetic bush might be interpreted as a “folly” today but could be re-interpreted as a “find” if there is additional evidence found in Hadar to back his assertion.

References:

Ferguson, W.W. 1984 “Revision of Fossil Hominid Jaws from the Plio/Pleistocene of Hadar, in Ethiopia Including a New Species of the Genus Homo (Hominodea: Homininae) In Primates 25(4): 519-29.

Ferguson, W.W. 1989 “Taxonomic status of the hominid mandible KNM-ER TI 13150 from the Middle Pliocene of Tabarin, in Kenya. In Primates 30 (1): 69-89.

Dr. Kewal Krishan – Physical and Forensic Anthropologist

Dr. Kewal Krishan is Senior Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Panjab University in Chandigarh, India. His areas of interest include forensic anthropology, forensic osteology, anthropometry, stature estimation, growth and nutritional status. He extensively worked on Gujjars of North-West India. The majority of Dr. Krishan’s publications are in the fields of anthropometry, anthropometrics and forensic anthropology.

Dr. Krishan was a graduate student of Biological Anthropology in, and earned the Doctorate in Forensic Anthropology from, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India in 2003. He was awarded gold-medal for standing first in M.Sc (Honours School) in Biological Anthropology at Panjab University (1994) where he also earned the B.Sc., also in Anthropology. Before joining his current faculty position, he worked as an anthropologist in the Forensic Medicine Department of Government Medical College Hospital, Chandigarh, India.

Dr. Krishan’s M.Sc. supervisor was JC Sharma, editor of the book Anthropology, Population and Development (1995). Professor R N Vashisht, a paleoanthropologist, served as master-mentor for Dr. Krishan’s PhD work at Panjab University. Dr. Krishan started off his graduate career in Paleoanthropology which subsequently informed his doctoral work in forensic anthropology.

Dr. Krishan has published more than 100 papers on various aspects of biological and forensic anthropology including studies of the estimation of stature, bilateral asymmetry, footprints, autopsy room infection, physical growth and nutritional status. His papers are published in Forensic Science International, Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, Legal Medicine (Tokyo), American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology etc. Dr. Krishan’s recent scholarship in forensics, in coordination with other Indian forensic anthropologists, has important implications for disaster anthropology and disaster archaeology.

Dr. Krishan has been nominated as the Editor-in-chief of The Internet Journal of Biological Anthropology and on the editorial board of 11 other international journals. Dr. Krishan is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, a Fellow of the International Association of Law and Forensic Science and a Fellow of the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.

 

Dr Kewal Krishan  (Photo of Dr. Kewal Krishan provided by Dr. Kewal Krishna, October of 2014)