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Human Fossils Print E-mail

Dr. Ray Bohlin

Written by Dr. Ray Bohlin

Australopithecines

A recent issue of Time magazine (14 March 1994) displayed a picture of Homo erectus on the cover with the title, "How Man Began: Fossil bones from the dawn of humanity are rewriting the story of evolution." The question of human origins fascinates us! Many people are intrigued by the possibility of descending from an ape-like ancestor only 7 million years ago. The field of paleoanthropology, the study of human fossils, embraces colorful personalities that compete for our allegiance to their particular evolutionary scheme. Mary and Louis Leakey, their son, Richard Leakey, and Donald Johanson are all recognizable names in this fascinating field of study.

Reading Time, Newsweek, and National Geographic convinces most people that humans evolved from ape- like ancestors. However, a now well-known poll indicates that 47% of adults in the United States, almost half, believe humans were created only 10,000 years ago and that only 9%, less than 1 in 10, believe humans are the result of an evolutionary process in which God played no part. So who's fooling whom? I want to take a brief look at the evidence for human evolution. This is an engrossing topic with some surprising answers.

The story begins about 3.5 million years ago with the appearance of a group of animals collectively known as australopithecines. Australo means "southern" and pithecines meaning "apes." These "southern apes," initially discovered in South Africa, were small, apparently upright walking apes. Then around 2 million years ago, a new creature appears that is now put into the genus Homo, Homo habilis. Homo habilis possesses the same stature of the australopithecines but with a slightly larger brain. It is also suggested that he used a few primitive tools. Next appears the real star of human evolution, Homo erectus. Homo erectus possesses the skeletal frame of modern humans though he's a little more robust, and his brain capacity is closer still to humans. Homo erectus uses more advanced tools. This "almost" human hangs around we're told for over 1.5 million years when nearly modern humans (Homo sapiens) begin to appear. Soon the offshoot Neanderthals arise and about the same time thoroughly modern humans appear in the last 100,000 years.

While this is the standard story, and the one you will find in the recent issue of Time magazine, it is far from convincing when all the data are considered. Take the australopithecines, for example. While there is still some debate about whether these creatures walked upright at all, most anthropologists accept that they walked on two legs. But it is misleading if you don't know the rest of the story. The fact is, that Lucy, the most well known australopithecine (Australopithecus afarensis), was also mildly adapted to life in the trees. The evolutionist William Howells said "there is general agreement that Lucy's gait is not properly understood, and that it was not something simply transitional to ours" (Getting Here: The Story of Human Evolution, 1993, emphasis mine). If Lucy walked upright, it was distinct from apes and humans. Not exactly what you would expect from a transitional form. Lucy is simply an extinct ape with no clear connection to humans.

The Uncertainties of Homo Erectus

We have all seen the series of extinct creatures that lead from ape to man. Evolutionists confidently declare that while there may be a lot of details missing from the story, the basic outline is fairly complete. This all seems rather impressive. In his recent book, Bones of Contention (Baker, 1992, p. 21), creationist Marvin Lubenow, offers an important observation:

What is not generally known is that this sequence, impressive as it seems, is a very artificial and arbitrary arrangement because 1) some fossils are selectively excluded if they do not fit well into the evolutionary scheme; 2) some human fossils are arbitrarily downgraded to make them appear to be evolutionary ancestors when they are in fact true humans; and 3) some non-human fossils are upgraded to make them appear to be human ancestors.

The australopithecines are a good example of Lubenow's third point. These extinct apes are trumpeted as human ancestors because of their crude bipedal walking ability. But nearly everything else about them is ape-like. The origin of their bipedality would be no small evolutionary task. Even Richard Leakey admits as much in his book with Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered (pp. 83-84), when he says that the change from walking on four legs to walking on two legs

...would have required an extensive remodeling of the ape's bone and muscle architecture and of the overall proportion in the lower half of the body. Mechanisms of gait are different, mechanics of balance are different, functions of major muscles are different--an entire functional complex had to be transformed for efficient bipedalism to be possible.

Yet these immense changes are not documented from the fossil record.

A good example of Lubenow's second point, the arbitrary downgrading of human fossils to make them appear to be our ancestors, is Homo erectus. Homo erectus is said to span the time from around 1.7 million years ago to nearly 400,000 years ago. From its first appearance, erectus is admitted to have a fully human post-cranial skeleton (that means everything but the head). But the brain size is given an evolutionary twist by saying that it only approaches the average for modern humans. In reality, Homo erectus brain size is within the range of modern humans.

Throughout the course of their book, Origins Reconsidered, Leakey and Lewin document an impressive array of characteristics that distinguish the ape-like qualities of australopithecines from the human qualities of Homo erectus. Australopithecines are small in stature, only 3-4 feet tall, and the males are twice the size of females. In humans and Homo erectus, the males are only 15-20% larger than females, and a juvenile erectus fossil is estimated to have grown to a height of six feet if he had lived.

In Homo erectus, all of the following characteristics display the human pattern, while in australopithecines, the ape pattern is evident: growth pattern, dental structure and development, facial structure and development, brain morphology, height to weight ratio, probable position of larynx based on the contours of the base of the skull making speech possible, and the size of the birth canal relative to the size of the adult brain.

Where some Homo erectus fossils differ from humans can be explained by the effects of inbreeding, dietary restrictions, and a harsh environment. But evolutionists need an intermediate, and Homo erectusis the only option available.

Neanderthals and the Paleontologists

In the field of paleoanthropology, the study of human fossils, one must approach the data and interpretations of the scientists involved with a careful and skeptical eye. There are a number of obvious reasons for this healthy skepticism. The most important reason being that they are looking for man's evolutionary ancestors. If that is what you are looking for, then that is likely what you will report to have found. That is just human nature.

A second reason, is that there is a great deal of competitiveness among anthropologists. They are involved in a race to be the one to discover the missing link which will mean immense notoriety and financial gain. The temptation to exaggerate the importance of their findings at the expense of others is very great.

Another reason for skepticism is that all anthropologists compare only plaster casts of the fossils or measurements available in the literature and not the fossils themselves. The actual fossils are understandably considered too delicate, fragile, and valuable to be handled directly all the time. However, plaster casts are sadly unable to accurately reproduce many of the details needed for proper study. In 1984, the largest collection of actual fossils was gathered from around the world at the American Museum of Natural History for the opening of the "Ancestors" exhibit. It was a unique opportunity for side by side comparisons that took much persuasion to pull off. The mounts for each skull or fragment were individually prepared using a cast of the original fossil. Unfortunately, when the real fossils showed up, most of them did not fit! It is a myth to think that those who teach and write on human origins have actually held in their hands even a fraction of the original material.

Evolutionists have been embarrassed on more than one occasion when their evolutionary bias, competitiveness, and lack of familiarity with the original fossils were not considered. A good example is the misinterpretation of neanderthals. Though there is still much dispute whether neanderthals are a sub-species of humans or a completely different species, in the early part of this century, there was unanimity in the belief that neanderthals were brutish, stooped creatures who were more closely related to apes than to humans. This impression stood for over forty years. One of the first complete neanderthal skeletons was found in a cave in France in 1908. It was given to the French paleontologist, Marcellin Boule to reconstruct.

From other fragmentary fossils, Boule had already formed an evolutionary bias that neanderthals were not related to humans. Boule saw only the "primitive" traits of neanderthals and ignored clear evidence of arthritis and rickets in the skeleton. Boule reconstructed the skeleton without the curves in the spine that allow humans to walk upright. He also placed the skull far forward so that it would have been difficult to even look up as we do. Other miscues produced an individual who was little more than a shuffling hunchback. Because of his reputation, this reconstruction stood until 1957, when two scientists re-examined the reconstruction and found Boule's prejudicial mistakes. Their study concluded that neanderthals, when healthy, stood erect, and walked normally. Neanderthals were simply stronger, stockier members of the human family.

Allowing the Facts to Speak

It is interesting to observe certain pieces of the fossil evidence for human evolution either ignored or stretched in order to not upset the accepted picture of human evolution. Creationist Marvin Lubenow, in his recent book, Bones of Contention, gives numerous examples of this kind of manipulation, and I'd like to discuss three of the most glaring incidents.

First is a bone fragment of the lower end of the upper arm, near the elbow, that was found near Kanapoi, Kenya, in 1965 and is given the designation, KP 271. What is unusual about this discovery is the date of around 4.5 million years--unusual because it appears for all intents and purposes to be human. Humans are not supposed to have been around 4.5 million years ago. Consequently, this small piece of humerus is usually designated as Australopithecus because that is the only hominid species known to be available at that time. Lubenow quotes Harvard anthropologist William Howells in a stunning admission,

The humeral fragment from Kanapoi, with a date of about 4.4 million, could not be distinguished from Homo sapiens morphologically or by multivariate analysis by Patterson and myself in 1967. . . . We suggested that it might represent Australopithecus because at that time allocation to Homo seemed preposterous, although it would be the correct one without the time element. (pp. 56-57).

The only reason KP 271 is not listed as human is because it can't be, according to evolution.

Second, many have heard of a series of footprints found by Mary Leakey near Laetoli, Tanzania. Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, however, just gloss over them by calling them hominid footprints (Origins Reconsidered, p. 103). But Lubenow documents that these footprints are identical to those made today by humans that always walk barefoot. Yet these footprints are routinely classified as Australopithecine. William Howells refers to the conclusions of Russell Tuttle from the University of Chicago and a leading expert on hominoid gates and limbs as saying that the footprints are nearly identical to modern humans and that australopithecine feet are significantly different. Tuttle suggests an undiscovered species made these prints. But he can't say that a human made them because humans aren't supposed to exist yet. In the words of evolutionist William Howells, "Here is something of an enigma" (Getting Here: The Story of Human Evolution, p. 79). Indeed!

Finally, Lubenow documents the incredible saga of determining the date for Skull 1470. Skull 1470 was very modern in its appearance but was found in rock previously dated at 2.9 million years--much too old for a modern skull. So some scientists set out to determine a much younger date. Lubenow recounts the back and forth wrangling over the issue. Several radioactive methods and paleomagnetism mainly pointed to 2.9 million years, but a few were found contradictory. Ultimately the radioactive dates were tossed aside in favor of a date of 1.9 million years, a date that fit the human evolution better, based on the certainty of the dates of pig evolution. Yes, pig evolution. To quote Lubenow, "The pigs won. . . . The pigs took it all. But in reality, it wasn't the pigs that won. It was evolution that won. In the dating game, evolution always wins" (p. 266).

A Creationist Perspective on Ancient Humans

Thus far we have been discussing some of the significant problems with evolutionary explanations of ancient human remains. But questions still remain. Many of these individuals do look very different from modern humans. Who are they? Where did they come from? Does any of this make sense from a creationist perspective? While we need to be careful not to over interpret the data as we have accused evolutionists of doing, there are a few suggestions that make some sense.

The most obvious first step is to recognize that Homo erectus, archaic Homo sapiens, neanderthals, and Homo sapiens form a continuum of the human family. The different forms represent genetic variation within a species and not distinct species. Many evolutionists themselves have difficulty drawing the line between these four different labels.

A group of human fossils from Kow Swamp, Australia, are no more than 13,000 years old yet contain may of the skull characteristics of Homo erectus. Some of the explanations for this involve cultural modifications and not genetic differences. In other words, many of the characteristics of Homo erectus can be achieved in modern humans by lifestyle changes. These could include deliberate forehead compression, deformation due to inbreeding, modifications due to dietary deficiencies and peculiarities. The late Arthur Custance documents differences in the modern skulls of Eskimos due to the massive jaw muscles that are developed because of their diet (Genesis and Early Man, 1975). Many of these changes would be labeled as primitive if dug up in some ancient river bed, yet they exist in fully modern humans today.

Marvin Lubenow offers the interesting suggestion that many of these ancient humans are the remains of individuals within the first millennia after the flood of Noah (Bones of Contention, pp. 144-156). Effects of the ice age, constant cloud cover (preventing Vitamin D formation leading to rickets), largely vegetarian and uncooked diet, and expression of local genetic variation could readily account for the many different, yet anatomically related human forms. Are these ancient humans former ape-like creatures that are evolving towards humans, or are they humans caught in a unique and harsh world that brought about numerous interspecies variants? Evolutionists never bother to ask the latter question. A creationist perspective, in this case, may lead to questions that evolutionists may never ask. That is the value, in science, of a different perspective.

©1994 Probe Ministries


About the Author

Dr. Ray BohlinRaymond G. Bohlin is Vice President of Vision Outreach at Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, co-author of Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research and Cloning (The BioBasics Series), and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in 1997, 2000 and 2012.

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