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Scientists Postulate Extinct Hominid With 150 IQ 568

Hugh Pickens writes "Neuroscientists Gary Lynch and Richard Granger have an interesting article in Discover Magazine about the Boskops, an extinct hominid that had big eyes, child-like faces, and forebrains roughly 50% larger than modern man indicating they may have had an average intelligence of around 150, making them geniuses among Homo sapiens. The combination of a large cranium and immature face would look decidedly unusual to modern eyes, but not entirely unfamiliar. Such faces peer out from the covers of countless science fiction books and are often attached to 'alien abductors' in movies. Naturalist Loren Eiseley wrote: 'Back there in the past, ten thousand years ago. The man of the future, with the big brain, the small teeth. He lived in Africa. His brain was bigger than your brain.' The history of evolutionary studies has been dogged by the almost irresistible idea that evolution leads to greater complexity, to animals that are more advanced than their predecessor, yet the existence of the Boskops argues otherwise — that humans with big brains, and perhaps great intelligence, occupied a substantial piece of southern Africa in the not very distant past, and that they eventually gave way to smaller-brained, possibly less advanced Homo sapiens — that is, ourselves. 'With 30 percent larger brains than ours now, we can readily calculate that a population with a mean brain size of 1,750 cc would be expected to have an average IQ of 149,' write Lynch and Granger. But why did they go extinct? 'Maybe all that thoughtfulness was of no particular survival value in 10,000 BC. Lacking the external hard drive of a literate society, the Boskops were unable to exploit the vast potential locked up in their expanded cortex,' write Lynch and Granger. 'They were born just a few millennia too soon.'"
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Scientists Postulate Extinct Hominid With 150 IQ

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  • by modmans2ndcoming ( 929661 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:01AM (#30605218) []

    The Discover article is a bunch of garbage. the idea that this was some sort of homonid species has been debuniked over 50 years ago.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:03AM (#30605242) Journal
    If I recall my Carl Sagan reading, Broca's Region is very important to our intellectual prowess among the animal kingdom. But from reading this summary it would seem that a blue whale would be the most intelligent thing ever. But it's not and that's because things like the proteins that make up our neurons, the spacing of the synapses, the quality of the electric shielding (white matter), etc are also important to defining our brain functions above that of an animal with comparable brain size.

    I'm in now way a biologist but it is odd to me that they would suggest this metric for intelligence unless they can also prove that they are recent enough in our history that the above factors I mentioned have to be close or match our own that we know a lot about. I don't think that's a safe speculation though.

    I would also like to point out the nature versus nurture paradigm in how a brain develops which will show you that in our idea of what an IQ test is, parental nurturing can sometimes have just as large if not more important result than our genetic make up.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:13AM (#30605334)

    Even clearer than the WP article is the link it provides:

  • by Mistah Bunny ( 1256566 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:13AM (#30605340)
    The article refers to the average Boskop IQ as 150 on our own scale as a way of comparison. It's not too useful to answer "100" whenever asked the average IQ of a species.
  • by A beautiful mind ( 821714 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:15AM (#30605370)
    I'll just quote an actual anthropologist [] about this "discovery".

    in fact, what happened is that a small set of large crania were taken from a much larger sample of varied crania, and given the name, "Boskopoid." This selection was initially done almost without any regard for archaeological or cultural associations -- any old, large skull was a "Boskop". Later, when a more systematic inventory of archaeological associations was entered into evidence, it became clear that the "Boskop race" was entirely a figment of anthropologists' imaginations. Instead, the MSA-to-LSA population of South Africa had a varied array of features, within the last 20,000 years trending toward those present in historic southern African peoples. Singer ends his paper thusly:

    It is now obvious that what was justifiable speculation (because of paucity of data) in 1923, and was apparent as speculation in 1947, is inexcusable to maintain in 1958.

    That is pretty much where matters have stood ever since. "Boskopoid" is used only in this historical sense; it is has not been an active unit of analysis since the 1950's. By 1963, Brothwell could claim that Boskop itself was nothing more than a large skull of Khoisan type, leaving the concept of a "Boskop race" far behind.

    So there you have it. There wasn't an extinct hominid with an IQ of 150, it was just the fallacy of selection bias exhibited by some anthropologists more than 70 years ago.

  • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:46AM (#30605716) Journal
    Actually, the idea of a "Boskop race" or "Boskop Man" is long discredited. The hypothesis occurred by actively selecting the larger skulls from the available set, and misclassifying them as a distinct population.
    It turns out that by examining the whole set of preserved skulls, cranium size distributions are similar in South Africa, Europe, and China for the period in question. Skulls of that era with rather large crania (comparable to the Boskop specimens) can be found in all regions.
    Cranium size distributions are similar between those regions today also, but the distributions have shifted to slightly smaller sizes than they were around 10000 BCE (probably due to agriculture & civilization). []
  • by gpronger ( 1142181 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:02PM (#30605896) Journal
    Reading the article and then jumping over and making use of "Google Scholar" it seems that the Boskops are not seen as a separate species or genus, but more of a grouping of larger skulls from the extant population of the time. John Hawks, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has a fairly in-depth blog on the subject (

    The other part of the picture, is fairly clear, and that is survival. As much as we seem to know of the "Boskops" they may have been an offshoot of the population of the time (but within the the larger envelope of homo sapien sapien). These larger skulled individuals, regardless if they were a population to themselves, faded. One of the points mentioned regarding brain size, is that they are "expensive" in the sense of the food and nutritional requirements. In considering their situation at that point in geologic time, they may have simply been a Formula 1 car showing up at the Baha 1000. Intelligence, like horsepower is but one aspect of survival (or winning) and whether their larger brain simply required too much "fuel" to finish, or that they were simply too specialized to be reflected in modern man, is open to speculation.

    At some point in time we may collect enough comparative (fossil) evidence to look at DNA comparisons, between the "Boskops" and their contemporaries and then compare this to "modern" man and be able to fit these individuals into the larger evolutionary picture.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:24PM (#30606214)

    Are they smart enough to distinguish between 'than' and 'then'?

  • by name_already_taken ( 540581 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:31PM (#30606286)

    Evolution would have done her in, just as evolution would have insured that these creatures had large enough reproductive organs to survive.

    Except evolution doesn't work that way. It doesn't work to assure survival. It does what's easiest given the array of choices that arise through mutation - including selecting a dead-end.

    It's more likely that a significant jump in infant cranial size would have resulted in a significant jump in failed births unless the mutation for the large brain coincided in the same individuals who have the wider hips and reproductive organs.

    That would be like someone winning two lotteries on the same day - it's extremely unlikely. Not impossible, but way less likely than winning only one lottery.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:35PM (#30606328)

    The proper method is to not cite Wikipedia (a source that can change), but instead cite the sources provided for the Wiki article (less likely to change). Use it as a research method, but dont cite the page as fact without checking the sources (and if you check the sources, cite them instead).

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:41PM (#30606376) Homepage Journal

    Islam does repress women. Repressed women tend to have less education. Uneducated women tend to have more children than educated ones.

    Ergo, muslims outbreed non-muslims. It's why France is the only European country that doesn't have a falling birthrate. Spend some time in the Parisian banlieue and see it with your own eyes.

  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:48PM (#30606458)

    Different areas of the brain handle different tasks - the back of the brain is where the visual center is, while the sides are where the audio recognition/speech centers are (as determined from individuals who have lost parts of their brains from surgery, accidents or diseases).

    The insular cortex [] seems to have been the most recent part of the brain to have evolved.

    It isn't so much brain size alone, as the ratio of brain size to body size [] that seems to be a measure of intelligence. There seems to be a minimum amount of brain volume required to manage the metabolism and immune system of body of a certain mass, so any excess about that amount has some other purpose like cognitive thinking, memory, recognition.

    These can be placed in a graph:

    Graph #1 []
    Graph #2 []

  • Re:One problem ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by ilguido ( 1704434 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:53PM (#30606568)

    The bacteria and viruses of today have exactly as long evolutionary history than us.

    No, they have much much much more ancestors than us. Evolution is not a matter of years, but of generations.

  • by mister_playboy ( 1474163 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:01PM (#30606688)

    You know you're a nerd when your IQ is a larger number than your bench press. :)

  • by bonch ( 38532 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:03PM (#30606744)

    Just so people know, there is skepticism [] over the existence of some ancient race of geniuses based on this skull.

  • by CyberSaint ( 1376273 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:18PM (#30607008)
    He's over simplifying. Other things being equal, a population with a higher reproductive rate will out compete a similar population with a lower reproductive rate. The key there is other things being equal differences in organization of a complex population can be sufficient to counterbalance a reproductive rate advantage.
  • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @02:29PM (#30608076)

    OK, then. What IS socialist? If charging anyone who pays taxes to fund a government program that gives services to all, regardless if they pay for it or not is not socialist, then what is?

    You are confusing a social program (a program or benefit for all paid from tax dollars) with socialism which is an economic organization. Both the military and police are paid for from our tax dollars, but I doubt you will find any sane person that would call these 'socialist'. Social program and 'socialist' are not the same. It would be like saying 'since Republicans are not Democrats, then they must be anti-democratic'.

  • by bytesex ( 112972 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @03:37PM (#30608842) Homepage

    "What is the primary function of any government? Why do societies, even primitive ones, form governments? Is it not to protect the members of that society from each other (police) and from outsiders (military)? These two functions are the essence of and are completely necessary for every government."

    That's *your* definition. Your threshold of non-socialism. Your view. Others may hold that it's enough to allow anyone to have a gun - let protection take its own course, yet even others may hold that it must also provide education lest 'a society' be lost. As I said, what I quoted above is subjective - it's *your* defintion of some sort of societal minimum.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 31, 2009 @04:29PM (#30609408)

    As a paralimbic cortex, the insular cortex is considered to be a relatively old structure.

  • by SlideRuleGuy ( 987445 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @07:17PM (#30610852) Journal
    Dolphins have a higher percentage of glial cells in their brains to keep them functioning in colder temperatures. Those cells don't contribute as much (if at all) to cognition. So size has less to do with intelligence than most think. Also, studies of the variety and rate of sounds produced by dolphins/whales/etc., show that while complex, their communications convey information at a lower rate even than human speech. Good enough for me. (Unless someone can show me that they've been publishing studies that show the opposite...)
  • by HuguesT ( 84078 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @08:54PM (#30611458)

    At best De Pretto might have a case at claiming a subset of special relativity. However General Relativity, which is Einstein's masterpiece, is a completely different ballgame. No one but Einstein understood GR when he proposed it, not even David Hilbert.

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors