New hominid, old story

Robert Mesibov mesibov at SOUTHCOM.COM.AU
Mon Nov 8 20:22:35 CST 2004

Dear Taxacomers,

Does anyone remember the Vercors novel "You Shall Know Them" (1953, first
published as "Les Animaux dénaturés" in 1952)? The skeleton of the plot is
that in a remote part New Guinea there lives a population of small, man-like
apes or ape-like men, Paranthropus erectus, who are being exploited by us
Homo sapiens. To force a decision on whether or not the creatures are human,
the hero artificially inseminates several female Paranthropus with his own
sperm. Next, he kills one of the (live-born) offspring after a birth
certificate had been issued and the infant christened. The hero then offers
himself to the police as a murderer. The trial is a sensation and Vercors
creates a detailed set of 1950s-vintage arguments for and against the
conspecificity of Paranthropus erectus and Homo sapiens.

"You Shall Know Them" was filmed as "Skullduggery" (1970) with Burt Reynolds
as the hero. Promotions included the line "Was It Human?...Animal?...Or The
Living Descendant Of The Missing Link!" This is only slightly more asinine
than the current newspaper stories about the "hobbit" found on Flores.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
and School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home address: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
Home phone: (03) 6437 1195

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