New findings suggest that there were at least three species of early humans wandering around the African plains a couple million years ago, during what may have been an experimental period in our development.
Again and again, I’m struck by how much genetics and evolution remind me of human technological development. Whether we model our advances on nature’s, I don’t know, but they seem to share a similar process.
If you look at any big human invention, you always find that there was more than one person working at the invention—sometimes oceans apart with no knowledge of each other’s work.
Thomas Edison patented the light bulb in 1879, but American Charles Francis Brush lit American streets with arc lights in 1877, and English physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan demonstrated electric lamps in Newcastle, England in 1878.
Alexander Graham Bell gets credit for the first practical telephone, but lots of others were working on the same thing—including Italian-American Antonio Meucci, who actually went to court with Bell over patent infringement.
Things don’t evolve in a vacuum, in either human technological advancement or natural evolution. And there’s trial and error in evolution just like there is in technology development. Lots of it, in fact.
Even organs as finely developed as the human eye have design quirks, such as the neural wires blocking some of the light to the retina, or especially the optic nerve passing through a tiny hole in the retina, creating a blind spot.
Nature is filled with design quirks that illustrate how evolution works—on pre-existing designs, improving them incrementally over thousands of years with endless subjects—to get to the complexity of the human eye. Which is why the neural wiring in our eyes is clumsily placed in front of our retinas, like a kid standing in front of the TV.
“Head! Down, now!” (Mike Myers with a Scottish accent in So I Married and Axe Murderer.)
Some of us like to see perfection in nature, but it may not be there. Scientists looking for a smooth, linear evolution of modern humans may not find that, either.
According to Nature, H. rudolfensis (the new kid on the block) may have been discovered in 1972 with the unearthing of a skull that didn’t fit into the archaeological record. But it was hard to say from only one specimen.
With the Turkana Basin Institute’s new find of three similar partial skulls, however, H. rudolfensis can now join the other kids in the pool.
H. rudolfensis’ biggest differences from our skulls (judging from the two lower jaws and partial juvenile face found by the Turkana researchers in the Koobi Fora region of northern Kenya) seem to be a flatter face and squared-off front teeth (a squared dental arcade as opposed to our rounded dental arcade, if you wanna get all science-y about it).
It’s still not clear how many different hominins were running around Africa 2 million years ago, but it looks like there were at least three.
Paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey and her Turkana team also uncovered another “mystery skull,” according to the New York Times, which may prove to be yet another species of early human.
Another beta test?
According to Leakey, the “base of the human lineage was indeed diverse.”
Like I said. Beta testing.