Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Phillip Tobias Has Died

Phillip Tobias, a preeminent anthropologist who worked tirelessly to raise the standard for palaeoanthropology in South Africa, has died. From the Scotsman:
But for Tobias’ endeavours, the honours would probably have gone to East Africa, the territory of the more famous Leakey team, Louis and Mary. The Leakeys were great self-publicists and they made sure that East African discoveries – especially those they made in the Olduvai Gorge in Kenya’s Rift Valley – featured prominently in international media at a time when South Africa was mostly renowned for its apartheid policies.

However, Tobias, who was an anti-apartheid activist as well as a distinguished scientist, lived long enough to see the tide turn and South Africa take centre stage in the great debate on humanity’s origins. The huge shift in perceptions was largely Tobias’ doing. It was no mean feat to keep the torch alight for evolutionary studies in a land governed by white right-wing Christian fundamentalists who passionately dismissed the idea of evolution.
Tobias was partly responsible for the changes in attitudes in South Africa that led to the downfall of apartheid and, along with many biological anthropologists of the time, championed the idea that race, as a biological concept, is meaningless. He will be missed.

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