Australopithecus africanus tanzaniensis Tobias, 1979
Year: 1979
Taxonomic Rank: Subspecies
Laetoli - No Type Fixed
Status: Unavailable
Remark: Conditionally proposed

Tobias (1980), at a talk delivered in 1979 and subsequently published in 1980, proposed that the Laetolil australopith fossils represent a subspcies separate from what is present in Ethiopia. He conditionally dubs the Laetoli specimens Australopithecus africanus tanzaniensis. He clearly refers to the Laetolil hominin sample but does not explicitly fix a type specimen, though this is not required for publications before 1999. Given that L.H. 4 from Laetoli is the lectotype of Australopithecus afarensis Johanson, 1978  and presuming it is in the type series considered by Tobias then Australopithecus africanus tanzaniensis Tobias, 1979 is an objective junion synonym to afarensis.

Tobias (1980) states in the abstract, 

"The published data on fossils from Laetolil are analysed and it is concluded there is insufficient morphological distance between them and Transvaal samples to exclude the Laetolil specimens from A. africanus, though some differences of dental morphology, time and space, may justify our regarding them as representative of a new subspecies A. africanus tanzaniensis." (p. 86)

and further on in the text, 

"In short, the only dental evidence that serves to differentiate the Laetolil hominids from the Transvaal A. africanus populations is that the teeth of the former are, on average, slightly bigger, while the mandibular premolars of Laetolil, though larger, are longer and narrower than those of A. africanus. These teneuous differences are insufficient evidence on which to separate the laetolil hominids from Transvaal A. africanus at the species level. There may well be a case to separate them at the subspecies level, since, aside from their small dental differences, the are 1.0 to 0.6 million years earlier than Makapansgat Member 3 and Sterfontein Member 4, and because of their geographcial distance apart. In that event, as we already have two southern african subspecies, A. africanus africanus and A. africanus transvaalensis, it would perhaps be appropropriate to refer to this Tanzanian subspecies as A. africanus tanzaniensis." (p. 107).

Groves (1989, p. 193) notes that Au. africanus tanzaniensis Tobias, 1979 lacks a type specimen, but this does not preclude its availability. Groves (1989) does not remark on the conditional nature of the proposal.

Harrison (2011) argues Tobias's proposal was conditional and that Au. africanus tanzaniensis Tobias,1979 is unavailable.


Authorship Reference
P. Tobias
A survey and synthesis of the African hominids of the late Tertiary and early Quaternary periods.
Current Argument on Early Man: Report from a Nobel Symposium, 86-113, 1980