The name is given to fossil finds from half a million years ago. Along the way we learn about genuine difficulties in classification:
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).
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 NeanderthalsUniversity of Winnipeg, “New species of human ancestor named: Homo bodoensis” at ScienceDaily (October 28, 2021)
So it’s not really a new find but an attempt to tidy up a messy classification system. Let’s see if the new name sticks.
The paper is open access.