Hominids in the House: Distant Relatives

There was a nice article in Nature recently relating a few interesting facts about some startling hominid fossil finds in Kenya, finds which challenge some long-held views on human evolution.

There were two fossils – a broken upper jawbone and an intact skull – nothing too startling in that. But what was startling is that these finds challenge the standard theory that Homo Habilis evolved into the more advanced Homo Erectus, who later evolved into us. Now it appears that they were “sister species”, that they overlapped in time, and lived side by side at some point. Another long-held standard theory bites the dust?

This brings back memories of an article which I read in Scientific American two or three years back. This article stated that, at one point in the past (can’t recall exactly how long ago), no less than thirteen separate species of hominids existed side by side on this planet, each occupying their own little niche. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

It’s even harder to believe that all of them, bar our own direct ancestors, died out solely through natural selection. Methinks our ancestors were just as handy with the old “ethnic cleansing” as many of their dishonorable descendants. Maybe some kind of evolutionary or biological imperative built into us that we’ll have to overcome before we can consider ourselves really “civilized”.

Reminds me of an early episode of Babylon 5, in which a drunken Londo was bragging that the Centauri used to exist alongside another intelligent species on their homeworld, but eventually exterminated them. Londo’s views on this awful genocide? “Good riddance!”

Sounds just like us. The Centauri and Earthers are descended from a common ancestor, if you ask me.