Earlier this year, an anthropologist from the University of New South Wales, Darren Curnoe announced the discovery of a new species of early man, Homo gautengensis or Gauteng Man (Gauteng is a province in South Africa.  Homo gautengensis has been dated (in evolutionary terms) from around 2.0 to 0.82 millions years ago, placing it as one of the earliest members of the genus Homo

The reconstructed skull consists of a couple of pieces of skull, a section of forehead and eyebrow ridge, part of the upper jaw and nasal area and a few teeth.  The remains were found in the Sterkfontein Caves near Johannesburg, South Africa.  While few post cranial fossils have been associated with this genus, the individual described by Curnoe is estimated to have only stood just over 3 foot tall, weighed 100 pounds, lived primarily in the trees but walked on two legs when on the ground.

Let’s take a moment and look at just how Homo gautengensis was really discovered.

Curnoe didn’t discover the remains in the Sterkfontein Caves, but in what is referred to as the ‘garbage bag’ of fossils supposedly belonging to Homo habilis.  As others find fossil remnants that they believed to be Home habilis or similar to it, they would dump them into the garbage bag.  Curnoe sorted through the hodgepodge of discarded pieces eventually pulling out several partial cranial, mandibular and dental pieces that he felt were different from the rest. 

Homo habilis is a questionable taxon to begin with, even in the evolutionary community.  Some evolutionists believe that a large number of the fossils that have been assigned to H. habilis most likely belong to Australopithecus or some other genus in the ancient apes.  The rest of the H. habilis fossils might represent H. erectus.

When Curnoe was sorting through the H. habilis garbage bag, he found some specimens that he felt were too morphologically distinct to be included with the rest of this group, so he decided to assign them to the new classification of H. gautengensis so as to separate them from the rest. 

Now the question arises as to exactly what H. gautengensis really is.  Is it truly a member of the genus Homo (human) or the genus Australopithecus (extinct apes)?

The type specimen (holotype) for H. gautengensis is from the Sterkfontein Caves and is designated as Stw 53.  The Stw 53 holotype specimen consists of a skull that has been largely reconstructed that had been previously considered to be Australopithecus africanus.  Anthropologists Kuman and Clarke cite several key morphological traits of Stw 53 that they claim are more representative of the genus Australopithecus.  These characteristics include a cranial capacity within the Australopithecus range, very large teeth, a flattened nasal region typical of apes, and a narrow and restrictive frontal section of the braincase. 

Another paleoanthropologist, Milford Wolpoff also believes that Stw 53 has characteristics that more closely resemble those of A. africanus.  Those traits include a shallow mandibular fossa, the vaulted shape of the mastoid region, and the presence of anterior pillars in the face.   

The other specimen assigned to H. gautengensis is the Swartkrans cranium designated SK 847.  SK 847 has been associated with both H. habilis and H. erectus.  Curnoe believes that this partial skull should belong to the new H. gaugentensis instead.  However, one study conducted on the semi-circular canals of SK 847 show that it should be placed in either H. erectus or H. sapiens.

After reviewing the information above, I can’t help but ask what exactly is Homo gautengensis?  The type specimen, Stw 53 appears to be more apelike and closely associated with Australopithecus and the paratype, SK 847 appears to be a modern man and perhaps a member of Home sapiens. 

The current classification system for all of the aforementioned specimens follows as such:

Kingdom:       Animalia

  Phylum:         Chordata

    Class:               Mammalia

      Order:                Primates

        Family:                Hominidae

          Genus:                    Australopithecus

             Species:                  A. africanus – Southern Small Ape of Africa

          Genus:                    Homo

            Species:                  H. gautengensis – Gauteng Man                                            

            Species:                  H. habilis – Handy Man

            Species:                  H. erectus – Upright Man

            Species:                  H. sapien – Wise Man

From a biblical perspective, we would consider all of the Australopithecines as members of the ape-kind.  Homo erectus and Homo sapien would be modern man and all classified as Homo sapiens since they are all descendants of Adam and Noah. 

As for Homo habilis and Homo gautengensis, there seems to be much controversy as to what they are, ape or man.  Perhaps there needs to be a new genus and species created where they can dump all of controversial hominid fossils.  I recommend Hesito confusionensis which means ‘uncertain confusion’.  It could be more commonly referred to as the Hodgepodge Hominid.

References:

Barrow, George, Homo gautengensis raises questions over humanity’s origins, Wired.co.uk, May, 25, 2010.

Line, Peter, Gautengensis vs sediba: A battle for supremacy amongst ‘apeman’ contenders, but neither descended from Adam, www.creation.com, June 17, 2010.

Line, Peter, Homo gautengensis—new species of alleged apeman is just another astralopith, Journal of Creation, Vol. 24(3), 2010.

Schwartz, Jeffrey H., Tattersall, Ian, and Holloway, Ralph L.,  The Human Fossil Record: Craniodental morphology of genus Homo (Africa and Asia), Vol. 2, John Wiley and Sons, 2003.

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