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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 the_womble ( 580291 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @10:59AM (#30605192) Homepage Journal

    Exactly me immediate reaction. How intelligent do these guys expect an elephant to be?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:06AM (#30605264)

    I am no neuroscientist, but since when is intelligence directly related to the size of the brain? There are many animals with brains much larger than a human's, but we're undoubtedly smarter than they are (or at least have greater opportunity to demonstrate our intelligence). Maybe I'm missing something though, like inconsistencies of the brain-size/intelligence ratio between species.

  • by ErikZ ( 55491 ) * on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:10AM (#30605306)

    I had read that around the time Man domesticated dogs, the size of their brains changed.

    The theory being that since we always had dogs with us, we didn't need large parts of the brain dedicated to smell anymore.

  • by jimbobborg ( 128330 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:12AM (#30605320)

    The skull was found in the early 1900s. There's been speculation about them for years. And NOW Discovery is writing about them? I think the better story to link to is about the giant snake they just found in a mine in South America. 40+ feet long, weighing in at over a ton, lived about 60 Million years ago, indicating that the temperature was significantly higher than it is now in the Equatorial Rain Forest.

  • by Duncan J Murray ( 1678632 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:13AM (#30605330) Homepage

    You're right - size isn't everything (there are plenty of examples of less intelligent, larger brained animals).

    Broca's and Wernicke's areas are parts of the brain for constructing and understanding language, respectively. This part of the brain is a unique part of the homo sapiens, and is why our brains our asymmetric (broca's and wernicke's is almost always on the left side of your brain). It is believed that the crucial genetic mutation that allowed for this asymmetry, also allowed for us to suffer from schizophrenia, which is believed to be due to a malfunctioning of correctly labelling thoughts versus speech versus what is heard.

    But back to the point - human intelligence is, as you say, a lot to do with nuture, but this in turn is dependant on our 'nature' (language).

    Then again, I've also head that the most intelligent are a particular shade of blue followed by mice, and then dolphins....

  • by martin ( 1336 ) <maxsec@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:14AM (#30605352) Journal

    is that those who adapt quickest to a changing environment survive (not the biggest, quickest or strongest). maybe thats what happened the Boskops couldn't adapt.

  • The article states that the intelligence is estimated from the prefrontal cortex size. How big is that of an elephant?
  • by orsty3001 ( 1377575 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:16AM (#30605388) [] This has been proven over and over that size doesn't relate to smarts. An elephant's brain is just over 3 times larger than ours and yet I didn't see any elephants walk on the moon or develop great civilizations.
  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:19AM (#30605432)

    Assume the hypothesis is true.

    Those big brains would not have evolved without an evolutionary advantage of some sort, lack of literary hard drives or no. Now, their relative fitness against homo sapiens is another matter - that could depend on things like population size, climate change, and the accidents of history. ("The race is not always to the swift" and all that.)

    I bet that, if this is true, someone starts looking for these genes in the current human population. They should be able to get some DNA from those 10,000 year old bones to compare against.

  • by rainmaestro ( 996549 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:36AM (#30605612)

    Nine out of Ten professors give automatic F's to students who cite Wikipedia in their papers.

    [Citation needed]

    Had to do it. For large projects, most professors I've had were fine with citing Wikipedia, provided you did not cite it as a *primary* source. It is usually safe to cite as a tertiary source (the same way you'd cite an encyclopedia in any decent paper), or as a secondary source depending on the professor.

  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:36AM (#30605624)
    It isn't brain size they are on about, its the size of a specific region of the brain. Other mammals assign their neurological resources differently; and in the case of dolphins I imagine a lot of the extra hardware for things such as echolocation.
  • by gerf ( 532474 ) <> on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:02PM (#30605894) Journal
    60 years ago, I built a computer that took up an entire room. Amazingly, it got replaced with a smaller, more efficient model.
  • by Nexus7 ( 2919 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:03PM (#30605916)

    This is a simplistic argument made often by non-city folk. In anarchy, the populations that will win out first are those that are better organized. Better organized in terms of food distribution, against mobs, the weather elements, division of labor - you know, like city folk. And for every animal out there that the "self-sustainable" folk can go and hunt to eat, the city is that much closer to transportation that can handle heavy loads, like tons of grain, or pickled herring, or whatever.

    Because make no mistake, after a brief period of panic, an economy will be put into place. There are economies in slums, in primitive societies, in war-torn and disaster-ravaged areas, there are economies upon economies and co-existing underground economies. The ones who have access to the best economic resources can put back their economy the soonest, and are the ones who will be self-sustainable.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:16PM (#30606102) Homepage Journal

    Did they have vocal cords that were sophisticated enough to produce real language?

    House cats have vocal cords that are sophisticated enough to produce real language. Once when I was married, we visited a friend out of town and crashed on his couch, the next morning we heard a child outside the door whining for help. "Help! Help!" plain as day. I opened the door and his cat walked in and said, again plain as day, "hello". Cats, however, don't have sophisticated enough brains for complex communications.

    Even some birds can mimick human speech.

    Further, being born with a huge head is hard on female. With out C-sections, how would a woman survive?

    They would have had to have huge vaginas and usteruses, too. My last girlfriend's vagina was freakishly small, so small I could hardly have sex with her. Were it not for c-section she and her son would have both died in childbirth; there's no way a baby's head would have fit through that thing. Evolution would have done her in, just as evolution would have insured that these creatures had large enough reproductive organs to survive.

    The thought just occurred to me that perhaps the precursors to humans mated with theis species; maybe the males of that species like tight pussies, the females of our precursor species liked smart guys, and that's why they went extinct?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:20PM (#30606160)

    "It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars and so on -- whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man -- for precisely the same reasons."

  • by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:21PM (#30606174) Homepage

    Increased brain size means more intelligence?

    No, not officially. First of all there is the also the variance. Even if bigger brains means smarter on average that doesn't mean the largest brain is also the smartest. Second, there is the known fact that in humans, men has larger brains than women, which means this subject is a no go zone; any serious scientist that suggest it is quickly discredited.

    OTOH. There are some evidence that suggest the neanderthal (who had 10% larger brains) was smarter than humans based on the relatively advanced tools they used, but since tools improve over time this is not really strong evidence.

  • by rainmaestro ( 996549 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:22PM (#30606186)

    The challenge there is that a familial study isn't easily extended.

    Factoring out the outliers (the mentally retarded, the extremely gifted), most Homo sapiens will have more or less the same internal structure. To get meaningful comparisons, you really need to dissect the brains of both species and compare the internal structure. The most any IQ study could say is that brain size correlates to IQ within the species, where many factors remain relatively unchanged across the sample. Even in these cases, the correlation coefficient is usually 0.4, implying a weak correlation.

    If both species had similar neuron density, interconnections, etc, then it would be reasonable to assume this species was more intelligent. On the other hand, if a significant difference was observed (be it through natural evolution, external forces such as dietary deficiencies, etc), they might not have been any more intelligent.

    I remember seeing a few studies on this back when I took Physical Anthropology, but I can't recall offhand any of the authors. The basic conclusion amongst the physical anthropology crowd is that brain size does loosely predict intelligence, if you hold the internal structure to be constant. To get a *true* picture of the difference, though, you need to know the differences internally as well, as these are considered to be more strongly correlated.

  • by Gerafix ( 1028986 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:53PM (#30606556)
    Or they were killed off by the more aggressive Homo sapiens because they were too docile. I'm thinking the Puppeteers had their hooves in this.
  • by ShatteredArm ( 1123533 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:05PM (#30606792)
    Some points from that article:

    First, if you do a simple Google Scholar search for "Boskop", you will discover that this has not been a going topic in human evolution for nearly fifty years. Most intellectual effort on the topic of "Boskopoids" happened between 1915 and 1930. I want to emphasize how easy it is to discover these things by a simple Google search. This is obscure knowledge, but for a good reason -- it's obsolete and has been for fifty years!

    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.

    Today, skeletal remains from South African LSA are generally believed to be ancestral to historic peoples in the region, including the Khoikhoi and San. The ancient people did not mysteriously disappear: they are still with us! The artistic legacy of the ancient peoples, clearly evidenced in rock art, is impressive but no more so than that of the European Upper Paleolithic or that of indigenous Australians.

    I hate to think that the theme of a 2008 book was pulled straight from a 1958 essay, but I don't know where else they would have gotten the idea. No anthropologists have written much about the so-called "Boskopoids" since 1958. There is no such thing as an "IQ estimate" for a fossil human; that's entirely nonsensical.

    Perhaps most important:

    Both Lynch and Granger are experts in neuroscience, with a long list of publications on memory, cortical organization, and chemical regulation of brain activity. Neither of them is an anthropologist or archaeologist.

    It would seem John Hawks has thoroughly debunked the idea.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:15PM (#30606958)

    Nah, it's just Jocks vs. Nerds a few millenia ago.

  • Re:One problem ... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:18PM (#30607000)

    evolution happens through small incremental mutations. and these happen at birth
    therefore the rate of evolution depends on the lifetime of the species.
    bacteria, living only a few hours or days at the most mutate (and therefore evolve) much faster than humans

    this isn't a theory, it's been proven many times and in many ways.

    for example, not too far where I live there's some leaking nuclear waste containers. biologists have discovered that there is a bacteria living in the area that has mutated to have triple redundant dna, thus allowing them to withstand the harsh conditions.
    this mutation would take eons to happen to humans, and most likely deadly levels of radiation would kill us off before such a mutation can become dominant.

  • by dirkdodgers ( 1642627 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:38PM (#30607326)

    Their work here has already been discredited in academic circles. Stop misinforming the public by giving it traction in the popular press. Had these neuroscientists had the sense to review their hypotheses with current scientists in anthropology and evolutionary biology they would have saved themselves a great deal of embarrassment.

    There is no science occurring here. There is no new discovery here. This is simply two scientists in a completely unrelated field (neuroscience), looking at very old, discredited data, and pulling a headline grabbing book and promotional magazine article out of their asses. However well meaning they were, they failed to do their footwork here, and the result is embarrassing. I guess we should ask snopes to start writing an article on this now before this nonsense spreads.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @02:07PM (#30607778) Homepage

    Oh really? The census reports indicate some pretty disturbing trends. Educated people are having fewer, if any children, while less and uneducated people are increasing in numbers. This isn't fantasy. Things are changing. Numbers have always overruled superior tech and intelligence. When you speak of smart general versus less smart general, you are talking about equal factors competing against each other on the basis of quality. One smart soldier with a machine gun cannot beat 1000 stick wielding primitives.

    As far as "conservative vs liberal" mentalities are concerned, I simply cannot subscribe to the two notions even existing as portrayed. But I'd like to know what you mean by historical short-sightedness. It is rare for any intellectual uprising ever to occur. What is typical, however, is massive hordes of stupidity to rally under a particular banner or cause which results in massive change and/or destruction.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Thursday December 31, 2009 @02:20PM (#30607972) Homepage Journal

    I know this is unpopular, but Enistien made his discovers due to an extremely high degree of persistence. His IQ was not the main factor. Read is letters. He has some pretty tough times with some of the math and had to be guided through it.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Thursday December 31, 2009 @02:26PM (#30608048) Homepage Journal

    "any opportunity to reduce that cost will be aggressively pursued by evolution. "
    no, not really. Only when it's to large to fit current evolutionary pressures will it favor random mutations the may occur. If pressure means your brain needs to be smaller, and the needed random mutation do not happen, the species will go extinct.

    I dislike any analogy abuote volutin that implies it has a goal or destiny. That alone has confused evolution understanding more then anything else.

  • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @03:30PM (#30608772)

    I would think it is more accurate to say that religion influences culture, then culture in turn reinterprets religion.

    Not all Christians share an identical (or even similar) culture.

  • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @03:40PM (#30608880)

    I think your sense of ridiculousness stems from the idea that islam taking over the earth is undesirable.

    No, I would have said the same thing if you said Christianity, or Buddhism or Atheism will take over the world. It's a silly statement to make.

    It would be the same as if someone said 'Murder rates are up 4% this year. If trends continue, the entire city will be dead in 12 years'

    Christianity swept most of Europe at one point looking to be the dominant world religion. Of course that also plunged us into several hundred years of what we now call the 'dark ages' where science was deemed to be against god and those practicing it were killed in the name of the church. Of course we know how that turned out.

  • by NuShrike ( 561140 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @05:21PM (#30609930)

    If dating the water erosion on the Sphinx holds any water, then it would date back to 10,000 B.C. when that area was grasslands and experience significant water fall. If the Sphinx was built back then, it would align with the era of the last of the "Boskop Man" placing them in the area of the Nile.

    Incidentally, the Egyptian pharaohs were usually depicted having large skulls, and married siblings (to preserve the bloodlines?). Maybe there's some correlation between the knowledge to build the Pyramids and these Boskop Men.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.