Saturday, November 11, 2006

Homo britannicus

At the FT, Clive Cookson has a fascinating piece summarizing the findings of three recent books on the original settlement(s) of Britain.


  1. Given the choice between morphology and genetics, I am generally more inclined to be attracted toward the bony evidence, but in this case, I think I'll lean towards accepting the genetics. While Chris Stringer does do some excellent work, I am suspicious of paleoanthropological findings based solely on fossils found in Britain. The rather dense levels of current population make any attempt at excavation biased, and the geological outcrops of appropriate age are notoriously sparse there.

    Stringer is also one of the most extreme "splitters" found among anthropologists, who, if pressed, might declare we had as many as 25 ancestral species, compared to more conservative estimates of 5! Figuring that Britain's population was decimated six times based on gaps in the fossil record just seems far too convenient to me, despite the good correlation between the gaps and the peaks of ice-age-cold.

    Still, bones always appeal to me so much more than blood, so I'll have to look at all three of these books—thanks for letting me know about them! I feel vaguely guilty having not kept up with the new literature in my field well enough to have known about them earlier—can I blame the forced focused intensity on class work provided by graduate school?

  2. Note from Chris Stringer to Lynn. I hope you will read my book because it is not just about the sparse British fossil record. And can I point out that even "if pressed" I would never "declare
    we had as many as 25 ancestral species, compared to more conservative estimates of 5", as you will see from reading the book. But thanks for your interest...Best Chris Stringer