Is Homo Habilis Truly "The Handy Man"? A Brief Discussion
One small problem, it seems that the stone tools can be dated back approximately half a million years before the H. habilis fossils and could just as easily have been constructed and used by Australopithecines (Schick and Toth, 1993). These tools have been found in association with what look to be butcher sites but none have been found in direct association with the H. habilis fossils themselves. It seems that the Olduwan tool complex is not as straight forward as it once seemed. Mary Leakey categorized the broken cobbles into different groups and used this scheme thereafter for the rest of the finds. No disrespect to Mary Leakey but scientific inquiry has come a long way since then and focus has drifted from the study of the cores to study of the flakes. With dates spanning back to 2.4 million years, the division of tool typologies and who was or was not using them is not so cut dried anymore.
The difference between H. habilis and Homo rudolfensis seems to be one of morphology related to bipedalism. Post cranial measurements on H. habilis suggest some very Australopithecine like features, such as shorter legs, longer arms, and condyles in all the wrong places (Conroy, 2005). H.habilis was probable just as good at climbing as it was at walking. Bottom line, H. habilis was probably not an obligate biped. H. rudolfensis on the other hand has measurements, while closely resembling H. habilis, show it to likely be an obligate biped (Conroy, 2005).
Conroy’s illustrations from chapter 9 of ER 1470 as compared to H.habilis lend support to the hypodigm model (2005). The hypodigm refers to all of the different specimens called H.habilis with all of their variations. I am in agreement with the idea that there is too much variation within the hypodigm for it to be an all inclusive species called H.habilis. This begs the question whether or not even H. sapien can be considered one species. We have maximum variation within our species, just look to the Pygmys and Masai of East Africa.
Fossil genera should not be based on the whims of the scientific community or on an ad hoc basis through loose associations. That being said, we should not analyze fossils over and over until they turn to dust. What is named is named. We can draw any number of inclusive of exclusive phylogenies and shift them back and forth but arguing over the taxa designation seems to be a waste of time. I do think that obligate bipedalism should be a determining factor for inclusion to the genus Homo but it is too late for that. It really is one of the very few actual defining factors of being human. Any future finds should probably be put through that kind of scrutiny. Access to these fossils presents its own problems, but those can be ironed out for the good of the discipline. This also serves as a cautionary tale to the effect that, just because we think we understand how something fits into the realm of evolution, doesn't mean it shouldn't be re-examined and continually discussed.
There is also some question as to whether or not Lucy was an obligate biped. See my article about this by clicking the link below: