Thursday, 3 April 2014

Homo habilis - fiftieth anniversary

Homo habilis the handy man (Wikimedia Commons)
An article in the current issue of Nature (here) reminded me that 50 years have passed since Louis Leakey, Phillip Tobias and John Napier published their controversial paper, "A new species of the genus Homo from Olduvai Gorge" (here). Until then most fossil hominins had been accomodated in the genera Australopithecus and Pithecanthropus. Whether or not the new fossils justified the title of Leakey's paper was disputed then and remains contentious.

As I wrote at the time, "There are two criteria that might be used to define man: his ability to make tools and the size of his brain. Homo habilis scores on the first point but not on the second" (Carter AM. A new ancestor for man. The Humanist 1964; 79: 198-201).

Happy Birthday Jane Goodall
I was reading anthropology while the paper was being written and was taught by both Phillip Tobias and John Napier. I also met Louis Leakey on one of his visits to Cambridge - probably angling for a job - and was introduced to his protégée, the then unknown Jane Goodall (whose 80th birthday is today).