Experts Name New Species of Human Ancestor

Summary: Researchers have named a new species of human ancestor. Homo bodoensis lived in Africa around half a million years ago and is a direct ancestor of modern humans.

Source: University of Winnipeg

An international team of researchers, led by University of Winnipeg palaeoanthropologist Dr. Mirjana Roksandic, has announced the naming of a new species of human ancestor, Homo bodoensis. This species lived in Africa during the Middle Pleistocene, around half a million years ago, and was the direct ancestor of modern humans.

The Middle Pleistocene (now renamed Chibanian and dated to 774,000-129,000 years ago) is important because it saw the rise of our own species (Homo sapiens) in Africa, our closest relatives, and the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) in Europe.

However, human evolution during this age is poorly understood, a problem which paleoanthropologists call “the muddle in the middle”. The announcement of Homo bodoensis hopes to bring some clarity to this puzzling, but important chapter in human evolution.

The new name is based on a reassessment of existing fossils from Africa and Eurasia from this time period. Traditionally, these fossils have been variably assigned to either Homo heidelbergensis or Homo rhodesiensis, both of which carried multiple, often contradictory definitions.

“Talking about human evolution during this time period became impossible due to the lack of proper terminology that acknowledges human geographic variation” according to Roksandic, lead author on the study.

Recently, DNA evidence has shown that some fossils in Europe called H. heidelbergensis were actually early Neanderthals, making the name redundant. For the same reason, the name needs to be abandoned when describing fossil humans from east Asia according to co-author, Xiu-Jie Wu (Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, China).

This is a drawing of Homo bodoensis
Artist rendering of Homo bodoensis. Credit: Ettore Mazza

Further muddling the narrative, African fossils dated to this period have been called at times both H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis.  H. rhodesiensis is poorly defined and the name has never been widely accepted. This is partly due to its association with Cecil Rhodes and the horrendous crimes carried out during colonial rule in Africa – an unacceptable honour in light of the important work being done toward decolonizing science.

The name “bodoensis” derives from a skull found in Bodo D’ar, Ethiopia, and the new species is understood to be a direct human ancestor. Under the new classification, H. bodoensis will describe most Middle Pleistocene humans from Africa and some from Southeast Europe, while many from the latter continent will be reclassified as Neanderthals, 

The co-first author Predrag Radović (Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, Serbia) says, “Terms need to be clear in science, to facilitate communication. They should not be treated as absolute when they contradict the fossil record.”

The introduction of H. bodoensis is aimed at “cutting the Gordian knot and allowing us to communicate clearly about this important period in human evolution” according to one of the co-authors Christopher Bae (Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai’i at Manoa).

Roksandic agrees: “Naming a new species is a big deal, as the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature allows name changes only under very strictly defined rules. We are confident that this one will stick around for a long time, a new taxon name will live only if other researchers use it.”

About this evolutionary neuroscience research news

Author: Jennifer Cox
Source: University of Winnipeg
Contact: Jennifer Cox – University of Winnipeg
Image: The image is credited to Ettore Mazza

Original Research: Open access.
Resolving the “muddle in the middle”: The case for Homo bodoensis sp. nov” by Mirjana Roksandic et al. Evolutionary Anthropology Issues News and Reviews


Resolving the “muddle in the middle”: The case for Homo bodoensis sp. nov

Recent developments in the field of palaeoanthropology necessitate the suppression of two hominin taxa and the introduction of a new species of hominins to help resolve the current nebulous state of Middle Pleistocene (Chibanian) hominin taxonomy.

In particular, the poorly defined and variably understood hominin taxa Homo heidelbergensis (both sensu stricto and sensu lato) and Homo rhodesiensis need to be abandoned as they fail to reflect the full range of hominin variability in the Middle Pleistocene.

Instead, we propose: (1) introduction of a new taxon, Homo bodoensis sp. nov., as an early Middle Pleistocene ancestor of the Homo sapiens lineage, with a pan-African distribution that extends into the eastern Mediterranean (Southeast Europe and the Levant); (2) that many of the fossils from Western Europe (e.g. Sima de los Huesos) currently assigned to Hheidelbergensis s.s. be reassigned to Homo neanderthalensis to reflect the early appearance of Neanderthal derived traits in the Middle Pleistocene in the region; and (3) that the Middle Pleistocene Asian fossils, particularly from China, likely represent a different lineage altogether.

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  1. Well how many skulls of this homo b. specie are there? Probably just one. Then you make the conclusion that it is our ancestor. How stupid. Well then how did it become chinese in eyes? Or european in size after million years? Where are the succession of bones to prove this evolution of yours? You are an expert in this field? With that data of yours do not just conclude and make up a story that sounds scientific but sooo unbelievable..and so you sound very funny. Creation of God is more scientific based on the obvious millions and billions of sound reasoning. It takes more faith to believe your theory than Creation theory haha!

  2. Some action was indeed needed. Lumping together the last common ancestor of sapiens, neandertalensis and denisova with early sapiens, neandertalensis and denisova, plus for good measure some unclassifiable skulls from East Asia into ‘Homo heidelbergensis’ was and is utter cladistic nonsense; especially if the type specimen from Heidelberg is very clearly post-split and on the Neandertal/Denisova line. But I don’t think Homo bodoensis is the answer if it is early sapiens, we don’t need a species name for that, we already have one: sapiens, everything after the split from Neandertal/Denisova. What we do need is a name for the common ancestor of sapiens, neandertalensis and denisova, before 500.000-600.000 BP, probably African and derived from Homo ergaster. The Bodo skull, at 600,000 BP, might do for that. But his immediate African descendants are sapiens, not bodoensis anymore!

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