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Keywords:

  • Human paleontology;
  • Phylogenetic reconstruction;
  • Cladistics

Abstract

Cladistic methodology has become common in phylogenetic analyses of the hominid fossil record. Even though it has correctly placed emphasis on morphology for the primary determination of affinities between groups and on explicit statements regarding traits and methods employed in making phylogenetic assessments, cladistics nonetheless has limitations when applied to the hominid fossil record. These include (1) the uncritical assumption of parsimony, (2) uncertainties in the identification of homoplasies, (3) difficulties in the appropriate delimitation of samples for analysis, (4) failure to account for normal patterns of variation, (5) methodological problems with the appropriate identification of morphological traits involving issues of biological relevance, intercorrelation, primary versus secondary characters, and the use of continuous variables, (6) issues of polarity identification, and (7) problems in hypothesis testing. While cladistics has focused attention on alternative phylogenetic reconstructions in hominid paleontology and on explicit statements regarding their morphological and methodological underpinnings, its biological limitations are too abundant for it to be more than a heuristic device for the preliminary ordering of complex human paleontological and neontological data.