Type: Review
Pages: 3 | Words: 812
Reading Time: 4 Minutes

The origin of Homo sapiens species is unknown. However, paleontologists are working hard to make the history of human evolution clear. In their review, Tattersall and Matternes (2000) attempt to order the somewhat chaotic data regarding anthropology. The authors do their best to organize the fossil evidence into a logical picture of how the hominids might have emerged. They propose a family tree, collecting all known hominid species that have populated the planet.

The key idea of Tattersall and Matternes’ manuscript seems to lie in the suggesting that the ancient species did not transform smoothly one into another. On the contrary, the species meandered. At this point, it is necessary to mention that much of the assumptions are based on rather weak findings (like a distinctive jaw from an Australopithecus from Chad). So, many of the chain links are of frankly weak evidence. Most of the relicts have in fact become evolutionary abortions. In various humanoid branches, most as it has been estimated to result in a dead end.

According to Tattersall and Matternes, a brilliant idea of invention a stone tool occurred to somebody called Australopithecus around 2.5 million years ago. Australopithecus used to live in Africa. In the manuscript, it is emphasized that there were probably many different Australopithecus (A. anamensis, A. afarensis, A. bahrelghazali et al.) within obscure time periods. Millions of years passed, until Homo ergaster decided to use a hand axe in his everyday life attributing to his mental abilities. Preceded by Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, who eventually led to evolutionary dead ends, Homo ergaster from East Africa even had a skeleton broadly similar to that of modern humans. Another million of years passed and Homo heidelbergensis honed the stone core of the axe. At this point, it is assumed that Homo neanderthalensis developed in Europe and Western Asia. As soon as they disappeared, the Homo sapiens emerged. The earliest Homo sapiens sited date from about 40,000 years ago. These not only improved stone tilling, but also introduced bone and antler. Homo sapiens, unlike the Neanderthals, experienced art in the form of engravings, carvings and cave paintings. As for Homo neanderthalensis, hunting was only suspected to take place and Homo sapiens both hunted and fished.

The second key point Tattersall and Matternes state is the qualitative shift of culture. None of the relict species succeeded in linguistic breakthrough. Language is the fundamental process that distinguishes the human from other species. This is not merely a tool to exchange information, but a complex mental operation that involves creativity, imagination, categorizing and making associations between symbols. Linguistic abilities demand anatomical facilities to be available, like vocal tracts to articulate speech or appropriate brain areas to manage words, and only modern Homo sapiens somehow had these innovations created.

Critical Standpoint

The article of Tattersall and Matternes (2000) begins with detailed description of relict species known to inhabit the Earth. As for unprepared reader, the information of the first part of the article is difficult to perceive. In the second part, however, as the investigator follows the text, the paper gives logical interpretation of the described data, and in combination with clear illustration of the family tree, the reader creates an argumentative summary. Thus, the writing is logically structured and concordantly supported by findings.

The weak side of the paper lies in the nature of the subject. Most of the schemes presented are no more than assumptions, not even reliable theories. Theory is a statement that explains the nature based on support. As for anthropology, the support is weak indeed. In the paper I have numbered twenty names of different species. Of them (except for Homo sapiens), the authors recognize that only Homo neanderthalensis has left reliable records of himself. All other hominid species are derived mostly from occasional remains throughout the continents. It is noteworthy that these casual ashes are to cover millions of years worldwide. It is well known that the climate had undergone deep changes in the past, suggesting that numerous remnants have been lost. Tectonic shifts and geographical alterations may have hidden historical leavings, which are to be discovered yet. Therefore, there is potentially vast volume of unaccounted data that can change the imaginary picture significantly.

The important conclusion, one needs to agree with, is the primacy of role of the language in Homo sapiens over the others. For sure, there were many natural challenges for ancient species in the past: ecological drifts, danger from predators, fire management requirements etc. Albeit, to overcome all frustrations of the wild nature a drove ought to communicate effectively. Oral speech skills presented superiority over previous modalities, neighbouring evolutionary branches and animals. This reorganization of the behavior pattern is for sure the mainstream for society development.

In conclusion, Tattersall and Matternes challenge the human origin. The existing points, although logical, lack evidence. However, the authors are likely to approach the origin of Homo sapiens in an accurate fashion.

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