It was maybe 20 or 30 years ago that I read an article about an isolated hominid branch, located in South Africa, which exhibited astonishingly large brains. Discover recently posted a piece revisiting that discovery. The article discusses the close association between that unique branch of Homo sapiens and neoteny, also called paedomorphosis.
“As if the Boskop story were not already strange enough, the accumulation of additional remains revealed another bizarre feature: These people had small, childlike faces. Physical anthropologists use the term pedomorphosis to describe the retention of juvenile features into adulthood. This phenomenon is sometimes used to explain rapid evolutionary changes. For example, certain amphibians retain fishlike gills even when fully mature and past their water-inhabiting period. Humans are said by some to be pedomorphic compared with other primates. Our facial structure bears some resemblance to that of an immature ape. Boskop’s appearance may be described in terms of this trait. A typical current European adult, for instance, has a face that takes up roughly one-third of his overall cranium size. Boskop has a face that takes up only about one-fifth of his cranium size, closer to the proportions of a child. Examination of individual bones confirmed that the nose, cheeks, and jaw were all childlike.”
The discovery begs a number of questions. Evidently there is not a clear time line regarding how many years in the past these Boskops lived, though a visit to Wikipedia says it was 10,000 – 30,000 years ago. Wikipedia also says the skull sizes have been exaggerated. Evidently there are a number of different opinions on how big the skulls actually were.
To assign the Boskops the name of “hominid” seems exaggerated if, indeed, they are from the last 100,000 years. They are evidently a variation of Homo sapiens.
What interests me most is not the exact brain size but the idea that an increased brain size is associated with neotenous features. The next question would be: What do digs surrounding these skeletons suggest about the culture that accompanied their brain size? Is there evidence of an exaggerated aesthetic?
I hypothesize that dance was central to humans evolving big brains fast. What would distinguish this particular branch of human evolution to suggest that a larger brain might be more closely connected to dance, music, body painting, fashion or song? Scanning web articles, I have found that writers on the Boskop are focused almost exclusively on brain size.
If Boskop skull size is significantly larger, an issue that is argued about (which seems strange, either they are a certain size or they are not), then is there evidence suggesting how long it took to grow these large skulls? If the surge in size was very brief, then it seems to be significant information.
Discover is a reputable publication. The Boskop finds are associated with no small number of disparaging articles. It’s not clear what exactly is happening here.