chapter  5
34 Pages

Human Phylogeny

Modern observers have often asserted that the debate over human phylogeny during the first third of the twentieth century was polarized by two alternatives: a unilinear conception and a multilinear conception (e.g., Bowler, 1997; Hammond, 1988; Smith, 1997a; Spencer, 1984). This chapter presents an alternative view to this traditional historiography. This reinterpretation has the following implications. While the Neandertals held a pivotal role in the unilinear and multilinear hypotheses, these remains were not always judged crucial for the assessment of human phylogeny at the time. A number of scientists, then, used interpretative frameworks in which the Neandertals merely figured as contributors among many others. In their view, the Neandertals constituted only a small part of the problem of the human descent. These phylogenetic interpretations constituted genuine alternatives to both the unilinear and the multilinear hypotheses. Consequently, the historiography based on this dichotomy is too narrow to serve as a proper analytical framework for the debate on human phylogeny during the 1890-1935 period. In short, this traditional historiography is wrongly biased toward the place of the Neandertals in human descent.