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In an interesting piece in The Guardian on possible proto-gorilla/proto-human hybridization, the journalist lobs this grenade:

But now that the once popular “single-origin model” of the evolution of Homo sapiens has been disproved, and the previously controversial “multiregional hypothesis” has been proven by DNA evidence, perhaps we need a rethink. According to the multiregional hypothesis all modern people, including modern Africans, are the descendents of breeding and hybridising between separate ancestral groups, all at various stages of evolutionary development.

Evolutionary lice research has helped palaeoanthropologists, including Stringer, to embrace the multi-regional hypothesis. “I’m sure there is plenty more to come from the lice research,” he told me. We know that it took 4m years, 5-9m years ago, for our ancestors to completely split from archaic chimps. During that time hybrids would have been born that mated both with our ancestors and ancestral chimps.

The issue here is semantics. I think regular readers of this weblog will know to be more cautious than to contend that the “single-origin model” of our species has been “disproved,” while its inverse has been “proven.” Those are strong words in science. Additionally, I seriously doubt that Chris Stringer would identify as a multi-regionalist. Some wires got crossed here, to the point where I somewhat feel this article is a case of science communication malpractice. Its main purpose was probably to conjure up the image of man-gorilla sex, but by way of that it totally garbled and misled on the basic state of knowledge in relation to human evolution.

I’m not much into credentialing, as an undereducated fellow myself, but I was curious as to the author’s background:

Carole Jahme has a master’s degree in evolutionary psychology and is the author of Beauty and the Beast: Woman, Ape and Evolution. In 2004 she won the Wellcome Trust’s Award for Communication of Science to the Public

There is simply no excuse that someone with this much background in human evolution should make such a hash of the basic details of what we currently know. Yes, times are a changing, but if you are going to label Chris Stringer a multi-regionalist, you better ask him if he defines himself as such when most of his professional career has been as the primary counter-point to multi-regionalist thinking!

A possible explanation may be the need for journalism to be “punchier” and simplify a bit on the margins. So blame the editor. But if you have to do so much modification that you distort the science then that defeats the original purpose.

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John Farrell pointed me to this Anne Gibbons’ piece, A New View Of the Birth of Homo sapiens. Here’s some interesting passages:

The new picture most resembles so-called assimilation models, which got relatively little attention over the years. “This means so much,” says Fred Smith of Illinois State University in Normal, who proposed such a model. “I just thought ‘Hallelujah! No matter what anybody else says, I was as close to correct as anybody.’ ”

But the genomic data don’t prove the classic multiregionalism model correct either. They suggest only a small amount of interbreeding, presumably at the margins where invading moderns met archaic groups that were the worldwide descendants of H. erectus, the human ancestor that left Africa 1.8 million years ago. “I have lately taken to talking about the best model as replacement with hybridization, … [or] ‘leaky replacement,’ ” says paleogeneticist Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, lead author of the two nuclear genome studies.

I suppose ‘assimilation’ sounds too generic, but ‘leaky replacement’ seems more fitting for a building ‘super’. But it isn’t as if paleoanthropology has a Don Draper, a rogue with a way with words.

Here’s the infographic that went along with it:

One issue I’m wondering: what’s the best mammalian analog for humans? By humans I mean our lineage since the emergence of H. erectus (or whatever they’re calling it now) and its expansion into Eurasia. Off the top of my head, I think the gray wolf is the best candidate:

Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"