New humans, or just different humans? - 16 Mar 2012

Lumpers vs splitters

Here's a little more opinion on the potential new type of human found in Southern China (click here to see story). The bulk of the story is similar to the one I posted yesterday, but this brings in a subject I like - Lumpers vs Splitters.

The kudos in discovering and/or getting to name a new species is quite a powerful lure. Understandably. The problem is that it may well sway opinion when it comes to deciding whether or not a fossil find is actually something altogether 'new' or just an unusual form of an existing genus or species. Splitters are those more inclined to give benefit of the doubt and name a new species. Lumpers are those whose first inclination is to assume it's simply a slightly different example of something we already have a name for. 

I side with the Lumpers. Think of the (admittedly very heavily human-influenced) diversity that exists within the  genus of Canis. A chihuahua is the same species as a St Bernard. Were we to find fossils of each of these, the natural assumption would probably be that they are distinct, thgouh related. Chances are these 'new' Red Deer Cave people are Homo sapiens. Just like you. More or less.