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.

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