Woke to find the newspapers all claiming a new “species” of
human being discovered in central Asia. Here’s the Guardian:
“The finding suggests an undocumented human species lived
alongside Neanderthals and early modern humans in parts
of Asia as recently as 30,000 years ago.”
Leave aside the fact that it’s just a bone from a little finger,
leave aside the fact that they have only sequenced
some mitochondrial DNA, not nuclear DNA. Assume, for the
sake of argument, that they have ruled out contamination. Applaud –
as we should – the achievement of recovering DNA from the fossil
and sequencing it.
But don’t call it a new species yet. It’s far more likely that
it just shows genetic diversity within the Neanderthals, of
roughly the same depth as is found within existing chimpanzees.
We modern humans, descended from a tiny tribe of east Africans who
lived 200,000 years ago, are the odd ones out in being so
genetically monotonous. Most species are like chimps: lots of
ancient genetic diversity within a broad geographical
range but still connected by interbreeding. Until somebody produces
better evidence, it’s a race of Neanderthal. Nature should be more cautious.