Apparently, these papers will be available for OpenAccess later this afternoon. While they are important in the details they provide (and I’m VERY happy to see them coming out), they are not surprising or earth shaking, with respect to our overall understanding of human evolution.
The paper will describe the usual mosaic of features of modern humans and apes in an upright, bipedal early hominid. This places a well described version of an “Australopith” pattern of walking pattern (which some people say is very modern, other say is very not modern, but is really just it’s own thing neither modern nor not modern) about a million years earlier than previously well described, but from other specimens already known from East and Central Africa and South Africa, this was already pretty much known about.
Had this find occurred about 12 years ago, it would be remarkable because of its age, pushing up against the moment of the last common ancestor of humans and chimps. But subsequent fossil finds have forced us to consider that this split is older, so there is still a million or three years between this recent find and when that split occurred.
If you remove the straw man arguments (that early hominids were “knuckle draggers” and so on) this find is unremarkable and does nothing to change our view of human evolution, however it is extensive (over 30 individuals are being described) and intensive (several different papers are being written on it and published together).
Someone does need to start asking the question: How can a major set of hominid fossils languish unpublished for 17 years. That, I’m afraid, is the most remarkable thing about this particular press event.
So, yes my title, “not all that interesting” is a bit snarky. I just want you to know that nothing I’ve read or heard so far changes what was already known, causes us to rethink human evolution, fills a gap that we didn’t already pretty much have filled.
What it DOES do, is provide rich and detailed analysis about a very important extinct species of hominid. It is actually very very interesting, but at a level that is mind numbingly specific and detailed. I promise you that when I tell you what is actually interesting about these fossils, after I’ve read all the papers and the monograph, I might have to lie to keep you from falling asleep. But I will be fully awake and enjoying it all.