January 9, 2011

Atapuerca Director: Tel Aviv teeth are Neanderthal or similar. Judeo-Christian bias blamed for the hype

José María Bermúdez de Castro, Director of Spain's National Center for the Research of Human Evolution (the "Atapuerca team"), writes today at Público newspaper[es] clarifying the matter: the human teeth found near Tel Aviv and hyped in the media as the first humans and blah-blah... are Neanderthal or quite so. 

Some key excerpts (my translation and bold type):

(...) the authors offer three similarly likely hypothesis to interpret their findings. But then they adopt the one that can offer more notoriety and discard the one that, in my opinion, is the most likely one, judging from the excellent images of the findings. The teeth are very similar (if not identical) to those of Neanderthals (...)

Eight teeth cannot be enough argumentation to demolish a hypothesis supported by dozens of works made in the fields of palaeoanthropology and genetics. I am persuaded that the authors are well aware of this. (...) Some media have been carried away by the symbolism of the region and of the Christmas period. I am afraid that some 400,000 years ago God did not inhabit the minds of human beings, or at least there is no data supporting such hypothesis.

I was admittedly waiting for some Atapuerca expert to demolish the wild and so-blatantly superstitious and populist conjecture. I did not have to wait much, thanks Jose Mari and thanks to Fonso for the link (at Mundo Neandertal[es], comments section).

12 comments:

  1. The finding had already been relativized earlier (published on December 31) :

    http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101231/full/news.2010.700.html

    "Nature talks to the archaeologist behind controversial claims that ancient teeth could rewrite human evolution."

    "According to the paper, the teeth cannot be conclusively identified as belonging to a particular species of human, whether Homo sapiens — the first modern humans — Neanderthals, or other humans. But the press release and some of the articles that drew on it state that the teeth are evidence that Homo sapiens lived in the Levant as early as 400,000 years ago. "

    "The discrepancy between the media coverage and the paper was seized upon by science bloggers Carl Zimmer and Brian Switek, who objected to the hype around the research. "

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  2. Well maju,

    It seems you were right from the beginning, Bermudez de Castro is one of the world's leading experts in the analysis of the dentition.

    It seems that these teeth are not sapiens, but beware, that these remains are not used to support a possible origin of the species in the Middle East, we should not dismiss the importance of this area in the last million years, says Bermudez de Castro.

    We can not forget that in Africa there is no human remains of a million years.

    We must be open to any possibility, in my opinion.

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  3. @Wagg: the Nature article does indeed relativize some of the most outlandish claims but it's still very far from the "these teeth are Neanderthal" that Bérmudez de Castro says quite clearly.

    The authors are still claiming these teeth match best with Skuhl/Qahfez, which are (maybe with one exception, sometimes considered hybrid) genuine H. sapiens and he is strongly worded against the OoA model of human dispersal.

    Not even a mention of Neanderthals or H. heidelbergensis or any other archaic hominin alternative and also a clear defense of the press release, which is what inspired all those populist news articles. So I understand that this Nature interview is still much in line with the press release and the rather unlikely conclusions of the paper itself.

    They are clearly taking an ideological stand instead of being purely scientific. That I call pseudoscience.

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  4. "... we should not dismiss the importance of this area in the last million years, says Bermudez de Castro".

    Obviously not. Palestine is a natural corridor between Africa and Eurasia and it has yielded some very important materials, specially from the Middle Paleolithic to Neolithic.

    But that is very different from claiming the urheimat of modern humanity there, as the Israeli archaeologists did, what has zero support.

    "We can not forget that in Africa there is no human remains of a million years"...

    That is very wrong: http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/2010/09/late-human-evolution-maps.html

    C. 1 Ma ago, in all the Western half of the Old World, all Homo s. fossils are in Africa, except those of Atapuerca. At about that time (1.3-0.8 Ma ago) the likely distinct ancestors of H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis are already found in South Africa and Spain respectively.

    There are also H. ergaster (H. erectus in the map) fossils in all the Great Rift (Tandania, Ethiopia, Eritrea), as well as Morocco. Nothing in West Asia in those dates.

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  5. 400kya is still old for Levantine Neanderthal.

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  6. The teeth belong to several layers dated (not sure how) between something more than 400 Ka and 200 Ka. All this span is more an H. ergaster ("H. erectus") or H. heidelbergensis period. The former is found in Palestine in the period and the latter in not too far away Greece.

    It could be either one, as it is clear that the research is substandard and provides no acceptable conclusions.

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  7. Greetings maju,

    ""That is very wrong: http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/2010/09/late-human-evolution-maps.html""

    I wanted to refer to no fossils in Africa 1 million years than erectus, ergaster, which may be the earliest forms of sapiens, or the common ancestor of sapiens and Neanderthals.

    Viewing the map number 1, except the fossil of rodhesiensis, and Morocco erectus, all the fossils appear to align in a row like in a flight to the Middle East.

    Forgive my lack of rigor here on dates, but I want to raise a question:

    be possible that the earliest forms of rodhesiensis entered competition for resources with African erectus forcing the latter to migrate to the Near East?

    Once there, they could have evolved into forms sapiens emerging and re-occupy the land again in africa.

    But, what about rodhesiensis?

    could extinguish?

    I think not there are many findings of this species, or perhaps they could merge again with the sapiens who arrived from the Near East.

    we know that is similar to heidelbergensis in Europe, but not so many remains, as far as I know

    is only a theory,

    I think we can never discard anything.

    what do you think?

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  8. "I wanted to refer to no fossils in Africa 1 million years than erectus, ergaster, which may be the earliest forms of sapiens, or the common ancestor of sapiens and Neanderthals".

    I do not understand well. The mainstream model is as follows:

    Ergaster > Rhodesiensis > Sapiens
    Ergaster > Antecessor > Heidelbergensis > Neanderthalensis

    H. ergaster is described as H. erectus in the maps, as there is some disagreement in the terminology and I followed a site that used this last term.

    In the 1 Ma. map we see the possible first individuals of each branch after the Erectus/Ergaster stage.

    "except the fossil of rodhesiensis, and Morocco erectus, all the fossils appear to align in a row like in a flight to the Middle East".

    None of them is in West Asia, most are concentrated in Ethiopia, farther from Palestine than Spain is for instance.

    "be possible that the earliest forms of rodhesiensis entered competition for resources with African erectus forcing the latter to migrate to the Near East?"

    It's a suggestive idea, I'd say but hard to demonstrate. Anyhow in the 2nd map, 800-600 Ka, there are no "erectus" anymore, though they do reappear in the 3rd map around the Mediterranean. I have no explanation for this phenomenon, sorry. They might have also arrived from Asia (the "erectus" category is quite of a catch-all term for "all other archaic humans").

    "Once there, they could have evolved into forms sapiens"...

    Surely not. Generally the ancestor of Sapiens is believed to be Rhodesiensis. However there is another school that argues that is Heidelbergensis and we always have the mysterious Hathnora hominin of India.

    In any case these teeth do not appear to be Sapiens but loosely "Neanderthaloid", Bermúdez de Castro dixit.

    "I think we can never discard anything.

    what do you think?"

    That we have to discard what looks less likely, not definitively maybe, but at least for the sake of a decent theory that is more than wild speculation.

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  9. In my understanding anyhow, just to be clear, David, the common ancestor of Sapiens and Neanderthals is no one than H. ergaster (or H. erectus of Africa). This seems confirmed by the Atapuerca chronology in what refers to Neanderthals and their (but not our) Heidelbergensis ancestors.

    There are other theories but don't seem solid to me. Though in wait for further evidence always...

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  10. Thanks maju,

    Maybe you can help me with something, do you know any link or web page in which I can see the fossils of hominids with their dates?

    Sometimes I get confused little with the dates, I have found very good leherensuge maps, and I would like to have all the correct dates and try to make me a similar maps.

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  11. My best quick reference for the dates is Wikipedia: list of human evolution fossils. Fossilized was my reference to draw the maps, it is quite complete, albeit not too wordy on each site and photos are often lacking. Hominin.net is another good reference. But for photos maybe the best is Modern Human Origins, even if right now seems to be down.

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  12. thank you very much Maju!!!

    On the internet you never know if we access information is correct.

    Now is a good hand that links are good.

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