Resolving the “Muddle in the Middle” – Experts Name New Species of Human Ancestor

An international research team led by Dr. Mirjana Roksandic, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Winnipeg, announced the naming of a new species of human ancestors, the Bodo people. This species lived in Africa during the Middle Pleistocene about 500,000 years ago and is the direct ancestor of modern humans.

The Middle Pleistocene (now renamed Chibanian, dating back 774,000-129,000 years ago) is important because it witnessed our own species (Homo sapiens) in Africa, our close relatives and Neanderthals (Neanderthals) The rise of people) in Europe.

However, people know very little about human evolution in this era, which paleoanthropologists call “the chaos in the middle.” The Homo bodoensis announcement hopes to make this puzzling but important chapter of human evolution clear.

The new name is based on a reassessment of existing fossils from Africa and Eurasia during this period. Traditionally, these fossils have been classified as Heidelbergers or Rhodesians to varying degrees. The definitions of these two types of people are diverse and often contradictory.

Homo bodoensis Artist's Drawing
Artist rendering of Homo bodoensis. Credit: Ettore Mazza

Roksandic, the lead author of the study, said: “Due to the lack of sufficient terms to identify human geographic differences, it has become impossible to talk about human evolution during this period.”

Recently, DNA evidence suggests that some fossils called H. heidelbergensis in Europe are actually the earliest Neanderthals, making this name redundant. Co-author Wu Xiujie (Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, China) said that for the same reason, this name should be dropped when describing human fossils from East Asia.

To further confuse the narrative, African fossils from this period are sometimes referred to as H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis. The definition of H. rhodesiensis is unclear, and the name has never been widely accepted. This is partly due to his connection with Cecil Rhodes and the heinous crimes committed during African colonial rule, which is an unacceptable honor given the important work done for scientific decolonization.

Homo bodoensis Artist's Rendering
Artist rendering of Homo bodoensis. Credit: Ettore Mazza

The name “bodoensis” is derived from a skull found in Bododar, Ethiopia. This new species is believed to be the direct ancestor of humans. According to the new classification, H. bodoensis will describe most humans from the Middle Pleistocene in Africa and some people from Southeast Europe, while many people from the latter continent will be reclassified as Neanderthals.

Co-first author Predrag Radović (Department of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, Serbia) said: “These terms must be scientifically clear to facilitate communication. When they contradict the fossil record, they should not be taken as absolute.”

According to co-author Christopher Bay (Department of Anthropology, University of Hawaii at Manoa), the introduction of H. bodoensis was intended to “cut the knot of Goldie so that we can clearly communicate this important period of human evolution.” .

Roksandic agreed: “The naming of a new species is a big problem, because the International Committee on Animal Nomenclature only allows the name to be changed under very strict rules. We believe this will last a long time, and a new taxon name can only be used by other researchers. It will only exist if you use it.”

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