28 May 2010

A Homo gautengensis by any other name...

A new species of our genus, Homo, was recently published:

Curnoe (2010). A review of early Homo in southern Africa focusing on cranial, mandibular and dental remains, with the description of a new species (Homo gautengensis sp. nov.). HOMO Journal of Comparative Human Biology (online early). doi:10.1016/j.jchb.2010.04.002

Here's the abstract:
The southern African sample of early Homo is playing an increasingly important role in understanding the origins, diversity and adaptations of the human genus. Yet, the affinities and classification of these remains continue to be in a state of flux. The southern African sample derives from five karstic palaeocave localities and represents more than one-third of the total African sample for this group; sampling an even wider range of anatomical regions than the eastern African collection. Morphological and phenetic comparisons of southern African specimens covering dental, mandibular and cranial remains demonstrate this sample to contain a species distinct from known early Homo taxa. The new species Homo gautengensis sp. nov. is described herein: type specimen Stw 53; Paratypes SE 255, SE 1508, Stw 19b/33, Stw 75–79, Stw 80, Stw 84, Stw 151, SK 15, SK 27, SK 45, SK 847, SKX 257/258, SKX 267/268, SKX 339, SKX 610, SKW 3114 and DNH 70. H. gautengensis is identified from fossils recovered at three palaeocave localities with current best ages spanning ~2.0 to 1.26–0.82 million years BP. Thus, H. gautengensisis probably the earliest recognised species in the human genus and its longevity is apparently well in excess of H. habilis.
The holotype, Stw 53, has previously been referred to either Homo habilis Leakey & al. 1964 or Australopithecus africanus Dart 1923. Interestingly, though, one of the paratypes, SK 15, is already the holotype of Telanthropus capensis Robinson 1949! So Homo gautengensis would appear to be a junior subjective synonym.

It gets even more interesting (for us nomenclature buffs, anyway): if Telanthropus capensis were to be transferred to Homo, then it would be a junior homonym of Homo capensis Broom 1918 (a.k.a. "Boskop Man"), which itself is a junior subjective synonym of Homo sapiens (the type specimen probably representing an early Khoisan individual).

I'm not sure if any of this is discussed by Curnoe, because I don't have access to the paper. If anyone has a PDF, feel free to e-mail to keesey [at] gmail [dot] com.

UPDATE: I have the paper now and will be looking it over.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Telanthropus is mentioned in passing, but the synonymy is not discussed.


  1. Could you please send me the paper as well?

  2. BTW, my head hurts just from reading your last paragraph! :P

  3. Sent.

    Indeed, I'm not sure what to make of this, myself. It seems the specific epithet should be capensis, but if it goes in Homo, what do you do?

    Incidentally, Berger & al recently did an analysis where Stw 53 is outside Clade(sedibaerectus), so it seems that either sediba should be Homo sediba or both species should be placed in other genera. (Australopithecus? A revived Telanthropus?)

  4. David Marjanović05 July, 2010 04:18

    but if it goes in Homo, what do you do?

    You must give it a new name... H. gautengensis being the obvious possibility.

  5. Yes, that's what they said on the ICZN list. I meant to do a follow-up to this post, but last month was rather hectic.