A few quick reflections by John Hawks

Reading John Hawks’ reflections on social media is usually a pleasure. I wanted to collect here just 20 of my favorite ones. Enjoy!   —   Thanks, Professor


  • 1- When I think of the students who are entering paleoanthropology, they are going to be my scientific peers five, ten years from now. Why in the world would I not want them to have the best, most current data from our fieldwork? I’m struggling to understand the mindset of scientists who think that students shouldn’t see the fossils.
  • 2- Four years ago we did an event at the AAPA meetings where we brought casts of fossils for the membership. What stunned me is that these practicing and teaching biological anthropologists were not only crowding around the new discoveries. They were also straining to see famous fossils that have been out of the ground for 40 years, that they’ve never been able to examine because casts cannot be bought. We must change this culture.
  • 3- Tired of seeing question «Which hominin was the stone tool maker?» In absence of further evidence, the correct answer is «Any and all».
  • 4- Paleoanthropologists have an unfortunate tendency to smuggle in assumptions and then act as if the resulting conclusions were real.
  • 5- I’m a scientist. I don’t want to people to accept that what I say is accurate. I want to give them the tools to find out for themselves.

  • 6- In science, most ideas are obvious. It’s how to TEST them that requires cleverness.
  • 7- You won’t have good ideas without talking to other people. Sometimes they steal those ideas. This is the price of moving forward.
  • 8- If the question is “ancestor or distant cousin”, the answer is ALWAYS “distant cousin”.


  • 9- Saying secrecy in paleoanthropology is generational is a bit like saying the Sith are generational in Star Wars.
  • 10- Wow, I can purchase this journal article about public engagement in science for only $225?
  • 11- Surely if we are talking seriously about cloning mammoths, someone must already have cloned some extinct vole or mouse? No?
  • 12- I have officially lost count of the number of hominin species. [after the proposal of a new species Australopithecus deyiremeda]
  • 13- Every time I see the name “Homo heidelbergensis” I feel a little queasy.
  • 14- A story cheekily named «The 15 Tweaks That Made Us Human» shouldn’t have so many «We don’t know what this gene does».
  • 15- Grading has me seriously thinking about an epic series of listicles on the theme «100 ways your human evolution textbook is wrong».


  • 16- Google suggests that instead of «OH 7 hand», I should be searching for «Oh 7 of 9». Gives a new meaning to the term «holotype»…
  • 17- If humans evolved from Australopithecus, why is there still Australop..er..uh..nevermind.
  • 18- Did you ever wonder whether maybe WE were the Neanderthals’ Zombie Apocalypse? [& funny response by @AnOkGeek] Slightly larger _BRAINS_. Slightly larger _BRAINS_. Slightly larger _BRAINS_. Slightly larger _BRAINS_. Slightly larger _BRAINS_.
  • 19- Glorious analogy. MT @JPPreston: One would never watch the Star Wars prequels before the original trilogy. So why start with Sahelanthropus?
  • 20- Went down to Gorham’s Cave today to see how Neandertals used hashtags!

Rock engraving, Gorham’s Cave. Photo: John Hawks on twitter

BONUS! The following is a bit longer, but worth reading it. The final phrase greatly summarises it all:  «It is an extraordinary time in our science»

«The pace of paleoanthropological discovery has accelerated during the past fifteen years. A greater proportion of students than ever are being trained in field research methods, with field schools at some of the most iconic sites. New technologies have unleashed the data hidden within old fossils. These discoveries have transformed our view of ancient populations. The roots of paleoanthropology are in the pre-evolutionary days of the nineteenth century. Today we work to understand one of the richest integrated datasets in twenty-first century biology. Even though there may be fewer than a thousand of us around the world, paleoanthropology is vastly larger than any single research team. The extended paleoanthropological family is growing, not by training new paleoanthropologists, but by greater integration of human geneticists and other biologists who can give new perspectives on the hominin fossil record and our evolutionary history. It is an extraordinary time in our science.» Reference: A paleoanthropological Thanksgiving 

Anyone wants to propose more? 😉

John Hawks is an anthropologist and can be followed on his blog johnhawks.net and twitter @johnhawks.



3 pensamientos en “A few quick reflections by John Hawks

    • Ha ha ha I hadn’t read it. Really funny! Love this one: – Who are the people that inhabited europe during the middle and late pleistocene – What a joyful question. I would love to answer this one! I could come up with a different answer for every day of the week.

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  1. Keeping fossils out of the hands of paleoanthropology students makes as much sense as keeping medical students away from bodies. Opening a discussion to all does not limit the size of a piece of pie, it only makes the pie larger.

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