In Race and Human Evolution, Milford Wolpoff and Rachel Caspari build a case for multiregional evolution. In this scenario, “humanity is an evolving subdivided species with geographically distinct populations.” According to their theory, modern races can trace some of their ancestry to very ancient local forebears. “This Multiregional evolution is a gradualist model, with the primary tenet that humans are a single polytypic species and have been for a very long time into the past… No speciation events seem to separate us from out immediate ancestors, and cladogenesis, the splitting of one species into two, last characterized our lineage at the origin of Homo sapiens some 2 million years ago, when members of what we once called “Homo erectus” first appeared in East Africa. For 2 million years, from the end of the Pliocene until now, ancient and modern Homo sapiens populations are members of the same species.” The multiregional model, not to be confused with polygenism, holds that the various human populations intermingled sufficiently, over the eons, to both transmit all advantageous genes to all populations and to ensure that the human species did not divide further into separate species.
One may surmise that, since the fossil evidence clearly implies that modern human populations are (at least partly) descended from earlier “proto-human” populations that inhabited the same areas, somebody had to address this in such a way as to preserve the orthodox view that racial differences are superficial. There are too many morphological similarities between Neanderthals and modern Europeans (which show a clear chronological transition) to be due to mere chance. The same is true of Asian populations and Asian “proto-humans”. Taken at face value, this evidence throws the whole “race is only skin deep” dogma into disarray. Wolpoff and Caspari tackle this problem creatively by claiming that all hominids, dating back to Homo erectus, are the same species: modern humans.
How do Wolpoff and Caspari define “modern human”? Well… first they start with the “precept” that all living humans are modern:
We know that in spite of its incessant use, “modern human” has proven to be an elusive and slippery term to define. There is no consensus on definitions of modernity… We don’t know how “modern human” is defined, because not only are different definitions contradictory, but when definitions of modernity have been proposed for skeletal remains, the inadvertent consequence has been that the definitions successfully excluding archaic groups also exclude some members of contemporary populations, and this, of course, will not do. We must begin with the precept that all living humans are modern! (pg. 344)
This is why it has proved impossible to provide an acceptable definition of modernity. Repeated attempts at a definition based on skeletal variation have failed because when they were applied to skeletal samples, it was found they did not include all recent or living people. How could this happen? It comes back to the importance of Neandertals, because these anatomical definitions are based on the assumption Neandertals were not modern humans. Indeed, they were constructed to exclude Neandertals. However, when the definitions were applied to populations around the world, it was quickly discovered that significant numbers of Holocene and recently living Aboriginal Indigenous Australians were not “modern”. This problem, of course, is not with the Aboriginal Indigenous Australians who are each and every bit as modern as the authors of the definitions, but with the definitions themselves and their focus on Neandertals.
Here we need to ask, from a purely scientific standpoint, why is it not possible that some contemporary human populations are not entirely “modern”? After all, even according to other anthropologists, it is quite possible that a properly educated Neanderthal could read, write and otherwise function in our society. This alone does not necessarily mean that they are “modern” humans. It is even possible that aliens from outer space might be able to function in human society (perhaps even better than we do) even though they are not human at all. If we examine the overall performance of Australian aborigines in modern times, one could easily imagine Neanderthals doing at least as well. It would appear that their average I.Q. is around 60, among the lowest in the world. To be sure, the term “modern”, even in the world of anthropology, can be a very subjective one. But, if it is to have any meaning at all, let it be based on science. Not sensitivity to the feelings of “living populations”.