Boris Fedorovich Porshnev
(1905-1972)
Why Boris Porshnev Piques Our Interest Today?

In his lifetime Boris Porshnev received a wide, even worldwide recognition only in a few fields of his creative work. Some people saw him as a major historian of the XVII-XVIII centuries, others - as one of the first Soviet social psychologists, the third recognized his merits in the theoretical analysis of economic and social life, the fourth were aware of his study of the problem of relict paleoanthropes (so-called "snowmen").


Porshnev himself regarded the book "At the Dawn of the Human History (Problems of Paleopsychology)"as his main scientific study. He distinctly realized that "the dawn" provides the key to the whole complex of sciences concerning "social individual and human society". This key brings together all fragments of his studies combining them into a single whole, into a solid research program.

The essence of Porshnev's approach to anthropogenesis boils down to the three items:

I. Most investigators spot in animals all main human qualities, but only "in embryo". Being a materialist, atheist and Marxist, Boris Porshnev regards as legitimate the religious view on the animal called "human" as on a being, distinct in kind from all other animals (hence "the evolutionary gap"). He also accepts the religious view on creativity as on the deepest and most generalized characteristic of man, which is lacking in any animal even "in embryo".

II. Porshnev purposely analyze problems which most investigators pay no attention to:
  1. emergence of neoanthrope and the rapid break-off of the tempo of evolution of the "neoanthrope community" from the tempo of evolution of the natural environment;
  2. relationship of the ancestors of neoanthropes with the environment, above all with the wildlife;
  3. anthropogenesis from the viewpoint of physiology of the higher nervous system and psychology.
III. Most investigators study the transition from animal to man through the "specimen - environment" model. Boris Porshnev centers his analysis on the model "specimen - specimen". He investigates the specific mechanism of specimens' influence on each other, prerequisites for which are found in the physiology of animals; he reconstructs conditions that formed this mechanism in man's nearest ancestors, as well as the first stages of its development up to the produced by it human verbal communication, human mentality, human specific social organization, human creativity.


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The Troglodytidae and the Hominidae in the Taxonomy and Evolution of Higher Primates

The present crisis in current ideas on the evolution of higher primates (Porshnev 1966) calls for revision of certain postulates and rehabilitation of the Haeckel and Vogt hypothesis (1866-68) of a "missing link" between apes and man. Haeckel and Vogt called this hypothetical form "ape-man" (or "man-ape"), but in accordance with the rules of taxonomy Linnaeus's term Homo troglodytes or simply troglodytes should have been used. H. troglodytes, according to Linnaeus, is a species characterised among other things by hairiness of the body and absence of speech. In the last hundred years, especially since Dubois's discovery of Pithecanthropus bones in Java in 1891-94, a fairly large amount of fossil material, representing many species of extinct bipedal higher primates has been collected. The generally accepted evolutionary interpretation of this material seems to me incorrect: all these species (except Australopithecus and Meganthropus) are bracketed with man. Linnaeus and Haeckel and Vogt would have classified them as troglodytes, or ape-men, having affinity to man in morphology, including bipedal locomotion, while lacking the higher cerebral functions which make speech and reason possible. Under the pressure of philosophical concepts, this fruitful idea has been almost totally abandoned in this century. Darwinian evolutionism (and the corresponding view of Engels) has been weakened by the concept of man's direct descent from apes without an intermediary zoological link. Now we can restore this link by embracing in taxonomy all the extinct and living forms belonging to it.
The main criterion for placing fossil forms in the family Hominidae is in practice the presence of accompanying stone implements. Such practice contradicts the purely morphological principle of classification. The creature discovered in Africa that was first named Pre-Zinjanthropus and later Homo habilis made crude pebble tools but had the brain of an anthropoid. Nonetheless it is considered that the discovery of Pre-Zinjanthropus increases the antiquity of hominids ("humans") some 2,000,000 years. At the same time, the contemporary and subsequent morphologically similar Australopithecinae are set apart as a subfamily, for their tool-making is considered doubtful or rudimentary. The geologically contemporary Meganthropus and Gigantopithecus are not included in the Hominidae at all, because they made no tools.
Bunak (1966:536) interprets Paleolithic stone implements as "exosomatic organs." Their production was to a high degree a stereotyped and automatic function: only slight changes of the prevailing pattern occur over a period of about 1,000 generations in the Lower Paleolithic and over a period of about 200 generations (taking a generation as 30 years) in the Middle Paleolithic; such ethological changes lie quite beyond the level of consciousness. The psychotechnical analysis of Paleolithic tools shows that the process of their production did not involve speech, but was sustained by automatic imitation within populations. Modern neurophysiology and neuropsychology have found it possible to locate in the brain areas of speech control and its bearing on behavior in that destruction of certain fields and zones in the frontal, temporal, and sincipital regions of the cortex renders the above-mentioned functions in one respect or another impossible; and these particular fields and zones are developed only in H. sapiens (Shevchenko 1971). The comparison of the data of the morphological evolution of the brain of fossil hominids and the study of aphasia excludes the possibility of articulate speech in the pre-H. sapiens stages of evolution, and the concept of inarticulate speech is rejected by psycholinguists as senseless.
Hence, it is advisable to abandon the current practice of including all bipedal higher primate fossils in the Hominidae. It is preferable to include in this family just one genus, Homo, represented by a single species, H. sapiens (subdivided into H. sapiens fossilis and H. sapiens recens). The main diagnostic distinction of the Hominidae is the presence of those formations in the structure of the brain which makes speech possible and the correlative features in the face (Porshnev 1971). All the other bipedal higher primates should be embraced by the family Troglodytidae (or Pithecanthropidae), whether they made tools or not. Their main diagnostic distinction from the family Pongidae is bipedal (erect, orthograde), locomotion, with all the correlative features in the structure of the body, head, limbs, and internal organs. The Troglodytidae (or Pithecanthropidae) may be subdivided into the following genera: (1) Australopithecus, (2) Meganthropus, (3) Pithecanthropus (Archanthropus, (4) Troglodytes (Paleanthropus), subdivided into Troglodytes fossilis and Troglodytes recens. This fourth genus (commonly known as the Neanderthal) can in its turn be divided into the following species: (a) Southern (Rhodesian type), (b) Classical (La Chapelle type), (c) Presapient (Steinheim-Ehringsdorf type), (d) Transitory (Palestine type).
... it is high time certain postulates in primatology and anthropology were rewritten.
The family Pongidae branched off the Primate tree in the Miocene. Currently it is represented by four genera: the gibbons (sometimes separated as a distinct family), the orangutans, the gorillas, and the chimpanzees. The family Troglodytidae diverged from the anthropoid line in the Pliocene. At present it is represented by one genus, probably one species (Troglodytes recens L.sp.?), which can be described as "relic hominoid" (Porshnev 1963, 1969). From the hominoid line (Troglodytidae) in the Upper Pleistocene there separated a family of hominids in which the tendency towards the formation of species did not prevail and which from the very start and up to the present has been represented by the species H. sapiens. The taxonomic rank of family for H. sapiens is justified by the greater biological significance of such new formations as the organs of speech, i.e. the second signal system. The unusually fast tempo of their evolutionary progress (naturally, on the basis of useful variations of ancestral forms, i.e. late Paleanthropus) indicates a mechanism of selection somewhat akin to artificial selection. In this comparatively speedy divergence the two species were juxtaposed in such a way that connecting links were washed away. This process was intimately connected with the genesis of the second signal system (Porshnev 1968a). The question is open now which species of Paleanthropus (Troglodytes fossilis) was the direct ancestor of H. sapiens fossilis. Perhaps we shall know this when study of the relic Paleanthropus yields serial morphological material, for there can be no doubt that the Troglodytes recens L. is a direct left-over of the divergence of the Troglodytidae and the Hominidae. Therefore study of these relics becomes a cardinal objective for the theory of anthropogenesis (Porshnev 1966b).
The thesis that all Paleanthropus forms died out or were assimilated almost immediately (not more than 3,000 years) after the appearance of H. sapiens is totally a priori and biologically absurd. Neanderthaloid skeletons found in the more recent strata of the earth, including some of the various periods of historic time, are looked upon as "pseudo-Neanderthal." The argument here is based on the absence of Mousterian tools, though this can be explained by the above-mentioned divergence resulting in the disappearance of the transitional forms and in the new ecology of relic Paleanthropus. Archaeological and historical evidence shows the latter's coexistence with man, sometimes in symbiotic relationship, sometimes in parasitic relationship with various species of the Carnivora and Herbivora, and, lastly, in more recent time, subsisting vicariously in the most deserted but ecologically varied biotopes.
The highest possible degree of negative adaptiveness of relic Paleanthropus to man, on the one hand, and its great outward likeness to man, on the other, jeopardize its study and explain why primatology and anthropology have fallen so far behind on this problem. It is precisely the use of nontraditional methods, such as the comparative analysis of mutually independent evidence, that has made it possible to establish the existence of this relic species and to describe its morphology, biogeography, ecology, and behavior. In other words, fact-finding methods have been used in biology that are usually employed by historians, jurists, and sociologists. This indirect research into the problem of relic Paleanthropus is now considerably advanced. Yet the road traveled so far can only be described as the initial (though perhaps the hardest) stage of research. The way is not yet clear for the next step — the planned acquisition of a specimen, living or dead. The state of research on the problem allows one to think it is high time certain postulates in primatology and anthropology were rewritten.




More infos:
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