Early man evolved, evolutionary scientists assure us. But it’s not clear what is evolving more: our ancestors, or the tales told about them. One thing that is clear is that everything you were taught in school is wrong. That matches the loose definition of evolution (change over time).
What he said of a sediba baby: Lee Berger continues to milk his Australopithecus sediba fossils for all the press they can deliver, and now he has a whopper: skin so soft on baby sediba bones. According to New Scientist, baby Seddy and his mom may have been mummified by falling into a pool without oxygen in a South African cave. (For other speculative plots, see the article.) “If the bone coating does turn out to be skin, it will be the first discovery of soft tissue from an ancient hominin,” reporters Catherine Brahic and Rowan Hooper wrote. Ancient is right; on the evolutionary timeline, the fossil is nearly 2 million years old. That’s not all: “Hair might be present, proteins such as keratin and even DNA might be extracted from the tissue, allowing us to dig even deeper into our history, and determine exactly how this species evolved, or even mated with other hominid species.”
Curlers and razors were not found yet, but Berger and team reassure us progress is being made despite the upset applecart: “Together, the two impressive fossils are calling into question the history of our species, and offering never-seen-before insights into how our very early ancestors lived.” So even though the discovery calls into question what we were told before, Brahic and Hooper were sure we are right on the verge of determining exactly how our alleged ancestors lived and hybridized with other species. The bones, though, are an “an odd mix of structures similar to ones seen in chimpanzees, australopithecines and even Homo erectus.” Which other hominid would they want to go dating with? No worries, mate. This is a spiritual experience. A little palm reading gave them the chills:
It is strangely moving to hold it, knowing that this is an exact replica of a hand of one of our most ancient relatives. The bones looked frail and slight lying on the black felt, but fit snugly on my palm, knuckles lining up to knuckles … This woman, who died 1.9 million years ago after falling down a watering hole in what is now South Africa, had hands remarkably similar to mine.
Fat man down the gopher hole: While Berger works the press in South Africa, Avi Gopher works them in Israel. His hole (Qesem Cave) is holier than that: the sacred relics he found there are telling him that our fat ancestors couldn’t compete. According to his latest paper in PLoS ONE 1, the reason Homo erectus lost out to slimmer modern humans 400,000 years ago is that the elephant bar collapsed. “Man the Fat Hunter” went starving when fat-rich elephants became scarce, allowing new slimmer hominids to “emerge” and outcompete them: “We employ a bio-energetic model to present a hypothesis that the disappearance of the elephants, which created a need to hunt an increased number of smaller and faster animals while maintaining an adequate fat content in the diet, was the evolutionary drive behind the emergence of the lighter, more agile, and cognitively capable hominins.” Wait; he’s already called them fat; why should he call them stupid? Now for the hole ad: “Qesem Cave thus provides a rare opportunity to study the mechanisms that underlie the emergence of our post-erectus ancestors, the fat hunters.” If anyone finds a mechanism that can underlie “emergence,” please call.
Teach a man to fish: This episode of “Rewrite the Textbooks” features a story that our ancestors became skilled fishermen much earlier than thought. Live Science and PhyOrg faithfully reported, without laughing, that the earliest date of fishing for our ancestors just tripled, from 12,000 years to 42,000 years. Maybe they were caught up in the excitement of Sue O’Conner (Australian National University) who was simply thrilled: “What the site in East Timor has shown us is that early modern humans in Island Southeast Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills. They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today – fish like tuna. It’s a very exciting find.”
What seems more daunting than exciting, though, is figuring out why they waited 8,000 years to start their tuna industry, if they already had cruise ships going to Australia over the open ocean 50,000 years ago. “When we look at the watercraft that Indigenous Australians used at the time of European contact, however, they are all very simple, like rafts and canoes. So how people got here at such an early date has always been puzzling.” Indeed. Sounds like degeneration, not progress. But what would we do without evolutionists to make sense out of the contradictions? “These new finds from Jerimalai cave go a long way to solving the puzzle,” O’Conner offered, promissory note in hand.
Strange as it seems: According to a new paper in Nature,2 the earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in Europe is now dated at 43,000 years. It’s official if Chris Stringer and Erik Trinkaus put their seal of approval on it. Problem is, anatomically modern humans are dated in Africa at up to 60,000 years old, according to Paul Mellars commenting on this paper in the same issue.3 That means that people just like us (for all practical purposes) couldn’t find Europe on the map for 17,000 years, much longer than recorded history, even though other “hominids” like Homo erectus could cook meat and hunt elephants and make tools, perhaps even sail the seas. Didn’t Sue O’Conner say that humans sailed to Australia 50,000 years ago? Didn’t Avi Gopher say slimmed-down, cognitively-capable ancestors were already in the Levant 400,000 years ago? Haven’t we been hearing lately that modern humans, Neanderthals and Homo erectus may have interbred? Getting to Europe shouldn’t take so long. Even Gopher’s elephant hunters could have made like Hannibal and crossed the Alps, it would seem.
Neanderthal jokes: We used to tell jokes about Neanderthals, but now some anthropologists believe they told jokes like us. In Nature4, Clive Gamble reviewed a new book by Thomas Wynn and Frederick R. Coolidge entitled, How to Think Like a Neanderthal. If you think thinking was not on the minds of Neanderthal Man, wait till you hear what the authors thought. “The book covers familiar areas – diet, symbolism and language – but also includes innovative assessments of Neanderthals’ capacity to tell jokes, and even speculations on what they might have dreamed about.” If it seems a stretch to determine such things from fossils, remember that the storytelling tools of evolutionary theory are infinitely flexible: “The authors use the Neanderthals as a means of discussing the evolutionary reasons for such cognitive abilities as humour and deception.” Say, did you hear the one about Joachim, the first Neanderthal Man? He was a creationist (10/26/2001).
Too soon oldt and too late shmart: Get used to it. This is as good as it gets. If you want to evolve a bigger brain, you’ll have to pay for it in evolutionary trade-offs, like disease. That’s what Thomas Hills (University of Warwick), and Ralph Hertwig (University of Basel) say in Medical Xpress. According to them, there are “evolutionary limits on cognition.” So is that why anatomically modern humans got stuck on a plateau 40,000 years ago? They didn’t say. It seems strange, though, to isolate intelligence as a limiting factor, when size, strength, and just about every other ability in nature has seen huge extremes. “Tradeoffs are common in evolution. It might be nice to be eight feet tall, but most hearts couldn’t handle getting blood up that high. So most humans top out under six feet.” Too bad they never heard of giraffes and supersauruses. Besides, they would never limit the power of Evolution to produce a 10-foot human, would they? If they think they have identified limits to intelligence, perhaps their sample size has been too small: the cave-dwellers in academia.
1. Ben-Dor M , Gopher A , Hershkovitz I , Barkai R , 2011 Man the Fat Hunter: The Demise of Homo erectus and the Emergence of a New Hominin Lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca. 400 kyr) Levant. PLoS ONE 6(12): e28689. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028689.
2. Higham et al., “The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in northwestern Europe,” Nature 479 (24 November 2011), pp. 521–524, doi:10.1038/nature10484.
3. Paul Mellars, “Palaeoanthropology: The earliest modern humans in Europe,” Nature 479 (24 November 2011), pp. 483–485, doi:10.1038/479483a.
4. Clive Gamble, “Neanderthals in Mind,” Nature (479, 17 November 2011, pp. 294–295, doi:10.1038/479294a).
If you need material for comic books, look no further than evolutionary anthropology literature. We aren’t making this stuff up. The stories above are typical, and they come from the world’s leading paleoanthropologists (which tells you something about where the rest of the pack is). We have been reporting these kinds of silly tales for a decade (for fun, browse the category “Early Man” under Origins in our topic bar above). No discovery ever stands the test of time. Every discovery rewrites the textbooks, and quite often, we are told that “everything you know is wrong.” Worse still, it doesn’t make any sense. Look how quickly civilized people have travelled around the world and conquered every habitat, learned every trade, tamed every animal, cultivated every crop, invented every tool. That all happened within 5,000 years (if you start just before the Sumerian empire). Can you really believe that our ancestors, with identical physical and mental equipment, were stuck with stone tools for tens or hundreds of thousands of years? They never learned to farm, ranch, ride a horse, work together, build permanent dwellings, invent writing, trade, and do any of the most rudimentary things that characterize human life? Ponder that.
Once the utter folly of the evolutionary tale sinks in, the question becomes: why would anyone believe it, and continue to teach it, year after year, decade after decade, against all the falsifying evidence that keeps showing up? The reason (other than a deeply felt need in the evolutionary mindset to tell new and more exotic stories) is that they need the time for evolution. According to the pre-established evolutionary timeline, man had to have a slow, progressive climb up from the apes starting six million years ago. Take away that assumption of time, and the meager fossil and artifactual evidence makes sense. Humans have always been what they are (some physical variability understandable), and they have not been around that long. The primitive cave-people who left the simple artifacts were not our ancestors; they were just the Occupy protestors of the day, when the real entrepreneurs were building Sumeria.