Given the last few years of Orwellian ‘cancel culture’, social engineering and historical revisionism, nothing should astound us now, but this article in the Telegraph still made me raise an eyebrow:
28 October 2021 • 7:00pm
Cecil Rhodes represents a problematic namesake for the ancient human ancester Homo rhodesiensis, say anthropologists
Cecil Rhodes, right, represents a problematic namesake for the ancient human ancester Homo rhodesiensis, say anthropologists.
The recent trends of statue toppling and museum revisionism have led to Cecil Rhodes being increasingly written out of history. But now the mining magnate is being written out of prehistory as well.
Our distant ancestor Homo rhodesiensis, or Rhodesian Man, is to be reclassified as Homo bodoensis in an attempt to shed colonial associations, and simplify a confusing period of human evolution.
Predrag Radovic, of the department of archaeology at the University of Belgrade, part of the international team behind the change, said: “The connection with Cecil Rhodes does not represent the main argument on rejecting the taxon name, but this issue should not be ignored either.
“We think that the aim of decolonizing palaeoanthropology is an important and socially responsible task, and indeed Cecil Rhodes represents a problematic namesake.
“Many of our colleagues are uncomfortable with using the name rhodesiensis for a hominin species.”
The first Rhodesian Man fossil – a surprisingly intact skull – was discovered in 1921 in Kabwe, Zambia, then northern Rhodesia, dating from 324,000 to 274,000 years ago.
The find occupies a pivotal place in the transition from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens and was named after its location – rather than Rhodes himself. It is currently housed at London’s Natural History Museum.
Similar fossils discovered later were assigned as either Homo rhodesiensis or Homo heidelbergensis, leading to widespread confusion.
However, recent DNA evidence has shown that some Homo heidelbergensis fossils in Europe were actually early Neanderthals, triggering a reassessment of all the finds.
The University of Winnipeg also said that the name Homo rhodesiensis had never been widely accepted by the scientific community.
“This is partly due to its association with Cecil Rhodes and the horrendous crimes carried out during colonial rule in Africa – an unacceptable honour in light of the important work being done toward decolonising science,” said the university in a press release about the name change.
Rhodes, a British imperialist, served as prime minister of the Cape Colony in the 1890s, and supported apartheid-style measures in southern Africa. In recent years, activist groups such as Rhodes Must Fall have called for the toppling of statues of the industrialist and the decolonisation of university curriculums and museum exhibits.
After a revaluation of the fossils, researchers came up with a single species – Homo bodoensis – which is named after a skull found in Bodo D’ar, Ethiopia.
The new species is a direct ancestor of modern humans, and includes the Rhodesian Man fossils, as well as those specimens of Homo heidelbergensis which do not show Neanderthal traits.
Homo bodoensis lived in Africa and Southeast Europe from around half a million years ago during the Middle Pleistocene (774,000-129,000 years ago), a period so difficult to understand that paleoanthropologists refer to it as “the muddle in the middle”.
While some hominin species were evolving towards humans, others would become Neanderthals, and some were dying out altogether, creating evolutionary dead-ends.
However, Prof Chris Stringer, a research leader in human evolution at the Natural History Museum, said the name change may just add to the confusion.
“I agree that heidelbergensis has been used as a rag-bag and I’m partly to blame for originating its wider usage,” he said.
“Rhodesiensis is a reasonable substitute for what they mean here, and I don’t see the need to create yet another name and adding to the muddle.”
The new name has been accepted by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature and the announcement of the reclassification was published in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology.