by Colin McIntosh
A recent discovery off the coast of the island of Taiwan, made by local fishermen, is causing scientists to re-examine their ideas about early humans. The skull of a male human, now nicknamed Penghu Man, was found to differ significantly from the skulls of the Homo Erectus species previously known in the area at the same time. Did the new jaw belong to a new species? Or was it the property of an individual of the species Homo sapiens, recently arrived in China from Africa? This is just one of the stream of news stories that appear regularly in the media, reflecting a natural human curiosity about where we come from. This area of popular science has a large literature and a growing readership.
Some of these are derived from the Latin word homo, meaning ‘man’ or ‘human’. The word Homo itself is applied to the genus (a group of species) that includes modern humans and other extinct human species. Hominin and hominid have had an interesting change in meaning, now reflected in the Dictionary. Previously the word hominid was used to refer to a member of a human species; this meaning has now been taken over by hominin. Hominid is now used by scientists to include all of the great apes, including gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos (a new entry to the Dictionary, reflecting their acceptance as a separate species from chimpanzees), and orang-utan, as well as humans. Read the rest of this entry ?