Our quondam homs

Did I miss a meeting?

Thanks to efforts in Ethiopia and elsewhere, we already know a good deal about A. afarensis. It has been called an 'archaic' hominin for at least two reasons. First, it is old: its fossils date from between 4 million and 3 million years ago. Second, its morphology is archaic, in the sense that its brain case, jaws and limb bones are much more ape-like than those of later taxa that are rightly included in our own genus, Homo. When adjusted for its body size, the brain of A. afarensis is not much larger than that of a chimpanzee, and although it has lost the large canines that distinguish apes from hominins, other aspects of its dentition, such as its relatively large chewing teeth, are still primitive (Fig. 1) (Wood 2006:278).

Every other reference on the internet to "archaic" hominins, hominids, or homininos refers to Middle Pleistocene Homo. So what's going on with this?

I guess that "australopithecine" no longer appeals to folks who want to simultaneously refer to Australopithecus, Kenyanthropus, Ardipithecus, Orrorin, Paranthropus, and whoknowswhatelseensis. So maybe some people are casting around for another term, besides the boring "early hominid" -- oops, "hominin".

It doesn't make sense to redefine "archaic" to mean non-Homo hominids -- oops, hominins. So I thought I would look in my thesaurus for some alternatives:

age-old, aged, antediluvian, antiquated, antique, archaic, back number*, been around*, bygone, creak, dated, decayed, done, démodé, early, elderly, erstwhile, fossil*, hoary, moth-eaten*, obsolete, old goat*, old-fashioned, older, oldie*, out-of-date, outmoded, primal, primeval, primordial, quondom, relic, remote, rusty, sometime, stale, superannuated, timeworn, unfashionable, venerable, vintage

Now, sure "fossil" is out -- but there are a lot of good options here. I think "hoary hominids" is a bit catchier than "old goat hominids", er, "hominins". But maybe "quondam hominins" is the way to go.


Wood B. 2006. A precious little bundle. Nature 443:278-281. Full text (free)