The emotional hunger of Darwin-driven science to find new human species (especially, unusually simian ones) has led to an amusing search for terminology to describe minimal differences. The word choices can be fun.
For example, in “Who Were the Denisovans?”(Science, 26 August 2011), Ann Gibbons explains,
Several fossils belonging to a previously unknown type of archaic human were found last summer in a remote cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. The discovery team called them the Denisovans after the cave.
Type as in “He’s not my type”? As it happens, these people were somebody’s type because genome mapping shows that our ancestors “mingled” with these people from 30,000 to 50,000 years ago and – it is thought – provided us with useful immunities. All the rest is shrouded in archaic darkness. A December 22, 2010 National Geographic News article by Ker Than, “New Type of Ancient Human Found—Descendants Live Today?”, reveals a similar wrestle with terminology. From Evolution’s “new twist”: Neanderthal-like “sister group” bred with humans like us,”
A previously unknown kind of human—the Denisovans—likely roamed Asia for thousands of years, probably interbreeding occasionally with humans like you and me, according to a new genetic study.
Kind, as in “He’s not the marrying kind,” surely; National Geographic can’t mean the creationist idea of “kind.” Actually, there is only a girl’s finger bone and a large adult tooth to go on as yet, but they point to some possibility that Papua, New Guinea, Islanders inherited DNA from “these prehistoric pairings.” The genetic evidence is very recent (2010), and casts an interesting light on the desperation with which many researchers in the last decade have sought to show that Flores man was a separate species, indeed, the “alien from Earth.” Or, as one researcher puts it,
“Then these two papers come out, and I won’t say they’ve turned the field on its head, but they certainly support a view that has not been well recognized for years” by geneticists, …
Which is Darwinspeak for Not What Top People Wanted to Hear. “Interesting and exciting,” also used here, often discreetly serves the same function.
Journalist Ker explains,
The team has been careful not to call Denisovans a new species, opting instead to label them as a Neanderthal “sister group .”
Now they’re a group. As in, “His family are an odd group.”
One researcher observes,
“We really don’t know how to equate differences in genome sequences with the species concept,” he said. “You could have two genuine species, whose members cannot interbreed, but whose genomes are very similar.
Can you? Where is the publicity wagon when we need it? Doesn’t that undercut the whole enterprise?
In any event, many have suggested dropping the pretense that Neanderthals are a separate species.
As scientists “produce evidence that Denisovans interbred with modern humans (as did Neanderthals) then the implication is that modern humans, Denisovans and Neanderthals are all subspecies of Homo sapiens,” he said.
Translation: The missing link is still missing.
Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes:
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