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Are There Human Fossils in the "Wrong Place" for Evolution?
The scientific field of paleoanthropology, with its continuing discovery of more and more evidence for human evolution, seems to strike at the heart of the creationist interpretation of Genesis. It is not surprising, then, that creationists would make every effort to try to debunk the growing evolutionary tree of fossil hominids.
The creationist debunking effort is two-pronged. The first prong is to attempt to discredit the fossil finds of paleoanthropologists such as Richard and Mary Leakey, Donald Johanson, Tim White, F. Clark Howell, and Phillip Tobias. The second prong is to claim that evolutionary scientists conveniently leave out fossil hominid finds that don't fit into the evolutionary pattern. This article will concentrate on answering the second creationist argument, responding to the various hominid finds that creationists say upset the evolutionary chronology.
"Out of Place" Fossil Hominids
In the Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter, Robert Kofahl makes the following statement:
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In The Creation Explanation, Kofahl, with Kelly Segraves, goes into more detail. After four pages of charts and diagrams, which include the above-mentioned three skulls together with some accepted by modern science, the book declares:
Scientific Creationism, edited by Henry Morris, says much the same thing.
These creationists seem to be on to something, so let's investigate the existing data and examine each of these finds in more detail.
The Catalog of Fossil Hominids, edited by Oakley, Campbell, and Molleson, and published by the British Museum, states on page 235:
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This sounds impressive. Could creationists be right that these finds have been ignored? On page 107 in the 1957 issue of the classic, Fossil Men, by Boule and Vallois, we get our answer.
This opinion was originally published before 1900. At present the Castenedolo materials are still in their original matrix and are located in the Instituto de Antropologia in Rome.
The investigation of the age of Castenedolo did not end with Professor Issel. As recently as 1965, newer and more sophisticated methods were applied to these materials. The Catalog of Fossil Hominids states: "Analysis of the bones showed that their residual collagen (assessed by %N) is higher than that of any other fossil bones from central and northern sites which have been tested" (p. 236). The end result of the collagen studies demonstrated that the Castenedolo materials were intrusive burials into the Astian clays. In 1969, the British Museum made radiocarbon tests on the cranial materials, and the tests demonstrated that the age was Holocene, the most recent life period (approximately twenty-five thousand years ago), and not Pliocene.
"Evolutionists generally ignore modern-type skulls which have been found in so-called ancient rock strata, because such discoveries do not fit their theories," says the Bible Science Newsletter (p. 5). "One such skull is the Olmo skull."
In the case of the Olmo materials, the creationists are in error from the beginning. The Olmo skull fits perfectly into the evolutionary chronology and is a legitimate specimen, for here we find a modern skull cap in upper-Pleistocene gravels—exactly where it ought to be. As G. G. MacCurdy states:
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The British Museum had developed a system and procedure for the relative dating of dentine, antler, and bone. The Catalog of Fossil Hominids describes it in this manner on page ix of the Introduction:
Based on this objective lab test of the Olmo skull, it was concluded: "Olmo 1 more probably from gravel, that is, upper Pleistocene" (p. 248). This would make it fifty thousand to seventy-five thousand years old, placing it in the Upper Paleolithic (Stone Age) cultural period.
Although the Castenedolo find represented a simple burial in recent times and the Olmo was determined to be from Pleistocene strata, thus rendering both consistent with biological evolution, the Calaveras skull is a horse of a different color. It has turned out to be a deliberate hoax. Robert F. Heizer tells the story.
Besides the later data, published in 1901 and 1907, which produced evidence that the Calaveras skull was indeed a hoax and a recent burial in the shaft, Thomas
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Wilson of Harvard University had run a flourine analysis on the skull in 1879. His results showed it to be recent and intrusive as well. The hoax became so well known that in 1899 Western humor writer Bret Harte wrote a satirical poem, "To the Pliocene Skull."
However, as noted by Christopher Weber, creationists are still using Calaveras Man to show the duplicity of paleoanthropologists. But duplicity seems to be on the other foot! Weber writes:
And isn't it interesting that creationists cite Sir Arthur Keith as a supporting authority for their claims about the Castenedolo, Olmo, and Calaveras fossils, but ignore the fact that Keith also accepted Piltdown. Though Keith was truly the big name in human evolution in his day and showed proper scientific caution about these fossils, physical anthropology was in its infancy then. It is to be expected that new sciences often fail to get things right the first time. With experience, new tools, and new methods, however, physical anthropology has come a long way in recent years.
Another fossil hominid that creationists say is in the "wrong place" for evolution is the well-established Homo erectus. In this case, they don't try to claim that the fossils are getting dusty in museum closets because scientists are conveniently forgetting about them. Creationists instead imply that it is something of a "club secret" among scientists that Homo erectus doesn't fit properly into the evolutionary chronology and, in fact, isn't even ancestral to modern humans. Scientific reports about Homo erectus, creationists contend, show significant problems. Robert Kofahl declares on page seventy-six of the Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter: "When carefully compared, these reports show that Peking Man [Homo erectus pekinensis or Sinanthropus pekinensis] was an animal, probably a large monkey or baboon, not a man." It would seem from this that physical anthropologists have no knowledge of human, monkey, and baboon morphology and have never heard of multivariate analysis or biometrical studies. (Such an implication renders the creationist comment absurd.) But Kofahl goes on to say: "Later, Marcellin Boule, international authority on fossil skulls, made a careful study of the bones and the site and published his conclusion that Sinanthropus was an
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animal which was eaten by the true men who had manufactured lime at the site." In regard to this statement, Professor H. Vallois, past director of the Institut de Paleontologie Humaine in Paris, France, informs me that Professor Boule wrote only one paper about the Sinanthropus. It was published in the 1937 issue of L'Anthropologie (p. 1). In this article, Professor Boule only considers that the Sinanthropus, a close relative of the Pithecanthropus, belonged to a group which had many of the characteristics of the big apes but was most certainly human. It may be noted that Professor Vallois was a close colleague of Professor Boule.
The famous French human paleontologist and Catholic priest, Henri Breuil, expresses himself as follows:
Teilhard de Chardin and the Chinese paleontologist, W. C. Pei, who both worked the site, concluded:
But creationists have tried to do more than just make a monkey out of Sinanthropus (Homo erectus). All this was just a lead-in to their main point about its position in the evolutionary chronology. They base their argument on an interpretation of the relevant fossil finds from Australia.
In the October 1972 Scientific American, a brief note was made of the discovery in the Kow swamps of Australia of some ten-thousand-year-old cranial materials. The discussion consisted of three long paragraphs, from which the creationists quoted forty-three words in Scientific Creationism (Morris, p. 174).
The creationist conclusion from these forty-three words is:
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This is a classic non sequitur (as well as being a claim that disagrees with Kofahl's view that Homo erectus was a monkey or baboon).
The conclusions of the Australian prehistorians in the third paragraph of the same Scientific American discussion (page forty-eight) was for some reason overlooked by the authors and editors of Scientific Creationism:
It appears, as expected in an isolated continent such as Australia, that some Homo erectus genes lingered on. This does not say that what lingered on was Homo erectus. "Ruling out" state the creationists; "isolated remnants" say the Australian scientists. It appears obvious why the total article was not quoted.
The conclusion reached by Professor Rhys Jones of the Australian National University is:
To make certain that I was on the right track and was reading the materials objectively, I wrote to scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra, who subsequently informed me:
What we may have with the Kow crania is not a ruling out of Homo erectus as an ancestor but rather a remnant group showing extreme polymorphism due to population mixture. The creationist misuse of the sources is typical of their usual manner in dealing with the evidence for human evolution.
In the November 1981 Impact, published by the Institute for Creation Research,
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Gary Parker states, ". . . We have evidence that people walked upright before Lucy was fossilized-the Kanapoi hominid, Castenedolo Man, perhaps even the Laetoli footprints discovered by Mary Leakey ..." (p. iii). He uses this material as support for his contention that Lucy could not have been our ancestor because "people" were around earlier. But let's look at the facts.
The Kanapoi material was discovered on an exposed erosion slope near Telek's volacano at the south end of Lake Rudolf in East Africa. The find was made by Dr. Bryan Patterson in 1965 while working with the Harvard University Museum of Zoology. This hominid discovery consisted of KP 271, a single elbow fragment (the distal end of the humerus). The specimen has been dated by faunal evidence and on correlation with Mursi (yellow sands) in Omo Valley at between 4 and 4.5 million years in age. Physical anthropologists are not jumping to any rash conclusions about this find. In general, the feelings are that the Kanapoi discovery is too fragmentary to allow much elaboration. Donald Johanson states in his book, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind, that the Kanapoi find is "so fragmentary, so worn, so lost in the wastes of time" that there is nothing it can tell us "beyond what logic could have said anyway: that some kind of ape into hominid was developing in East Africa during that period" (p. 361).
As for the Laetoli footprints, they tend to support evolution and counter the arguments of those creationists who doubt that Lucy and other Australopithecines walked upright. Richard Hay and Mary Leakey, writing in the February 1982 Scientific American, noted that the Laetoli footprints date back between 3.5 and 3.8 million years. Lucy has been dated at about 3 million years old. Therefore, if the footprints at Laetoli in Tanzania, Africa, were made by Australopithecus afrensis, this merely shows that there was a period of stasis in the evolution of that hominid type lasting at least five hundred thousand years. There is nothing strange about that.
The hominid footprints at Laetoli were found in 1977 and 1978. Hay and Leakey declare:
The estimated height of these hominids averaged around 1.4 meters (four feet, seven inches).
Parker's comments that imply that these footprints must be in the wrong place for evolution are no more logical than saying that, because my great, great grandfather walked erect, he could not have been my ancestor. All the Laetoli
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prints do is push back further into time the origin of hominids. When Parker says "we have evidence," he should note that evidence is the data upon which a judgment or conclusion can reasonably be based or by which proof or probability can be established. But the evidence of KP 271 and the Laetoli footprints fail to lend support to Parker's conclusion that Lucy could not have been our ancestor.
The creationist interpretations and comments on those human fossils that are supposedly in the "wrong place" for evolution are nothing less than pseudoscientific notions based on a need to defend biblical inerrancy. These notions constitute a collection of outdated information and views, unwarranted projections, and discarded hypotheses. Put into scientific guise, they do nothing to shake the "establishment" position that humans are a product of an evolutionary process. If the creationists had really established the truth of their numerous statements in the field of paleoanthropology, this indeed would have been an astonishing upset. And contrary to what creationists may lead people to believe, any firm evidence they had would have found a welcome place in the standard scientific journals. As it is, creationists have simply failed to make a case.
Bible Science Newsletter, Supplement to Bible Science Newsletter. March 1976.
Boule, Marcellin, and Vallois, H. 1957. Fossil Men. New York: The Dryden Press.
Hay, Richard L., and Leakey, Mary D. February 1982. "The Fossil Footprints of Laetoli." Scientific American, Vol. 246, No. 2.
Heizer, Robert F. 1971. Man's Discovery of His Past. Peek Publications.
Johanson, Donald C. 1980. Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Jones, Rhys. 1973. "Emerging Picture of Pleistocene Australians." Nature 246:5431:278-281.
Kofahl, Robert E. 1977. Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter. San Diego: Beta Books.
Kofahl, Robert E., and Segraves, Kelly L. 1975. The Creation Explanation. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers.
MacCurdy, G.G. (no date). Human Origins: A Manual of Prehistory. Vol. 1. Appleton and Co.
Morris, Henry M. (ed.) 1974. Scientific Creationism. San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers.
Oakley, Cambell, and Molleson. 1971. Catalog of Fossil Hominids. British Museum.
Parker, Gary E. November 1981. "Origin of Mankind." Impact, No. 101.
Scientific American. "Last Adam." October 1972.
Weber, Christopher G. Fall 1981. "Paluxy Man-The Creationist Piltdown." Creation/ Evolution. Vol. 2, No. 4
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