Friday, March 18, 2005

Hobbits and Dwarves? Was J.R.R. onto something?

Anthropologists bicker about the relationship between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalis. Some believe that the two species co-existed and interbred prior to the extinction of the Neanderthal. Others propose that Homo sapiens descended from Homo neanderthalis via natural selection, a hypothesis that suggests Neanderthal genes are still shaping us today. Another camp contends that the two primates occupy distinct branches of the evolutionary tree, thereby making impossible successful reproduction and direct descent.

A recent "Frankenstein" skeleton built by anthropologists at the American Museum of Natural History may help quell the debate. Apparently, the skeleton has a poorly defined waist and a wide, heavy rib cage. The scientists describe it as dwarf-like in build, though the height of the primate is comparable to our own species. Based on the discrepancies, Gary Sawyer "doesn't believe that modern humans could have evolved from Neanderthals."

But we're talking anthropology here, a scientific arena known for its long-running intellectual battles. We might have to wait a long time for any consensus.

Speaking of anthropological discoveries, one famous Indiana Jones, Professor Reiner Protsch von Zeiner, has been proven a fraud. This article in the Guardian Weekly is as amusing as it is depressing. Personally, those individuals working in the scientific community who prioritize ambition over methodology (and fact) horrify me. By falsifying the dates of his "important" discoveries, Protsch has done his field a great disservice.
"Anthropology is going to have to completely revise its picture of modern man between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago," said Thomas Terberger, the archaeologist who discovered the hoax. "Prof Protsch's work appeared to prove that anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals had co-existed, and perhaps even had children together. This now appears to be rubbish."
Photo credit: ripped for MSNBC article; copyright, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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