Turning to the next section is like a breath of fresh air – even though it’s completely wrong at least it’s capable of being understood.
Limitations of Paleoanthropological Methods, Datasets, and Studies
In this sections Luskin purports to critique palaeoanthropology. He starts out with a quote by Gould to the effect that “most hominid fossils…are fragments of jaws and scraps of skulls” and Medawar to the effect that paleoanthopology is a humble and unexacting kind of science. Later in the section he claims that complete skulls are rare finds in paleaoanthropology. I suspect he is quote mining, but it really doesn’t matter, because he is still wrong. For example, a halfhearted attempt to count the number of fossils mentioned in Conroy’s Reconstructing Human Origins yielded over 2400 specimens, quite a few of which were complete skulls. I’ve encountered some estimates that put the total number in the tens of thousands – hardly fragments of jaws and scraps of skulls. In terms of methodology, palaeoanthropology draws on paleontology, geology, anatomy and evolutionary biology to name a few and has a rich, sophisticated theory base to draw on.
Luskin then claims that “A single skull…only provides one data point for an entire species and tells little about full ranges of morphological variation, extent sexual dimorphism and even the species true general form (whatever that is) through time. (pg 4)” At Omo over 500 specimens have been found representing gracile and robust australopithicines and early homo. At Sterkfontein over 600 specimens representing over 50 individuals from Australopithecus africanus, A. robustus and Homo habilis. At Makapansgat over 30 specimens representing approximately 12 individuals from A. robustus and H. erectus. At Hadar over 250 specimens representing approximately 35 individuals from A. afarensis. At Atapuerca/Gran Dolina 100 specimens from 6 individuals. At Atapuerca/Sima delos Huesos 28 individuals. At Predmosti 29 indicviduals. At Dolni Vestonce 35 individuals. At Krapina 800 specimens representing over 80 indivuals. At Vindija 80 specimens. At Skhul 10 individuals. At Shanidar 9 individuals. Whats missing from the list I just presented are sites such as Olduvai Gorge and Sangiran, among others. The amount of diversity in terms of morphology in the above list is certainly adequate to characterize the full range of variation for most of the species we are familiar with.
Coming soon: The Fossil Record of Non-Hominid Primates.