Origins of the Terms: Homin vs. Hominin
by Loren Coleman, Director, International Cryptozoology Museum
What are differences in origins and meanings of two words, hominin and homin, which are apparently being confused by self-styled hominologists? What do anthropologists and paleoanthropologists say of the history of the origins of “hominin”?
K. Kris Hirst has a BS in Education from Illinois State University, and an MA in Anthropology from the University of Iowa. She writes for About.com Archaelogy.
Apparently, in 2011, she wrote the following definition of “hominin”:
Over the last few years, the word “hominin” has crept into the public news stories about our human ancestors. This is not a misspelling for hominid; this reflects an evolutionary change in the understanding of what it means to be human.
Up until the 1980s, paleoanthropologists generally followed the taxonomic system followed by the 18th century scientist Carl Linnaeus, when they spoke of the various species of humans. The family of Hominoids included the subfamily of Hominids (humans and their ancestors) and Anthropoids (chimps, gorillas, and orangutans). The problem is, recent molecular studies show that humans, chimps and gorillas are closer to one another than orangutans. So, scientists split the Hominoids into two subfamilies: Ponginae (orangutans) and Homininae (humans and their ancestors, and chimps and gorillas). But, we still need a way to discuss humans and their ancestors as a separate group, so researchers have proposed a further breakdown of the Homininae subfamily, to include Hominini (humans and their ancestors), Panini (chimps), and Gorillini (gorillas).
So, roughly speaking, a Hominin is what we used to call a Hominid; a creature that paleoanthropologists have agreed is human or a human ancestor. These include all of the Homo species (Homo sapiens, H. ergaster, H. rudolfensis), all of the Australopithecines (Australopithicus africanus, A. boisei, etc.) and other ancient forms like Paranthropus and Ardipithecus.
I have quoted Ms. Hirst fully, for historical, editorial and critiquing purposes, as what she is sharing is under review here. (It appears part of her posting may have been based on Erin Wayman’s “What’s in a Name? Hominid Versus Hominin,” which I discovered after I had earlier uploaded my coincidentally similarly-named blog posting.)
Among some hominologists (those who study Bigfoot, Yeti, Siberian Snowmen, Wildpeople, Yeren, and the like), there appears to be some confusion that they “discovered” the word “hominin” versus the new cryptozoological term they coined, “homin.”
For example, after the Pangboche “Yeti finger” was declared to be “human,” Ms. Roberta “Bobbie” Short wrote on a public email list: “I love it that they’re using the term ‘hominin.’ Bobbie Short.”
The origins are very different for this similar term, “homin,” which was allegedly invented by Russian hominologists, and “hominin,” which issued from more mainstream anthropological origins.
As noted in my earlier discussion of definitions (in 2006), here:
“Homin” is a term coined by Dmitri Bayanov to be used instead of the words Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Almas, and other local, regional names of unknown, upright, hairy primates. Bayanov defines “homin” as a “non-sapiens hominid.”
The contemporary practice of using “homin” appears to be restricted mostly to Russian hominologists, and their close associates, including North Carolina’s William Duncan, California’s Bobbie Short, and Tennessee’s Mary Alayne Green and Janice Carter Coy. While the Russian term “hominology” has persevered and spread among Bigfoot researchers, in general, “homin” has not.
One reason it is not more popular may be that in the English-speaking world, the word “homin” is visually and lingusitically experienced as truncated, almost a typographical error. Also, for those that understand root words, it is viewed as more related to being from the Latin homin-, stem of Latin homo, meaning “human being,” than the generalized Bigfoot appears to require.
Nevertheless, followers of the Russians, as noted, tend to use “homin” heavily, as reflected, for example, in Will Duncan’s title of his 2002 paper, “The Predictability of Homin Behavior,” and in conjunction with the word “hirsute” (hairy) by Bobbie Short.
“A Registered Nurse by occupation, Bobbie [Short] is an active Bigfoot researcher and field investigator with a growing database of hirsute homin sightings.” – Anon., Crypto: Hominology Special Number I (2001)
“Actually, hominology can be nothing but the science of homins.” – Dmitri Bayanov, Crypto: Hominology Special Number I (2001)
But have anthropologists kept track of the exact origins of “hominin,” I wondered.
On December 29, 2011, I asked Wisconsin paleoanthropologist John Hawks, “Who was the first anthropologist to employ the term ‘hominin’?”
Hawks answered, on January 3rd, “Not sure who used hominin first; I’ll see if I can figure it out.”
Yesterday, an associate of Hawks giving her name as Caitlin S., a doctoral candidate in paleoanthropology, posted this Twitter message: “Subfamily Homininae Gray 1825; use of Tribe Hominini see Hoffstetter ’79; use of “hominin” for post-LCA, Groves ’89.”
And later, “Well, I could be wrong; that was a great question. I remember discussing hominin/hominid for post-LCA w/ Wolpoff even @ AAPAs ’03.”
Still later, Hawks responded, “I wrote quite a bit about it in 2005 before I switched to hominin (“PhyloCode and human evolution“) but did not have an origin.”
LCA = last common ancestor. The 1989 title cited probably would be: Groves, C. (1989). A Theory Of Human And Primate Evolution. Oxford Science Publications. ISBN 0198577583.
Interestingly, this “Groves” would be primatologist Colin Groves, who was on the Board of Directors of the International Society of Cryptozoology, in the early 1980s. It is to be noted that Groves then went on to coauthor a book taking a look at “pseudoscience”: Groves, C (1989). Laycock, D;. ed. Skeptical, a handbook on pseudoscience and the paranormal. Australian Skeptics. ISBN 0731657942.
The quest continues to answer the question of the origin of “hominin” and its first usage.