February 19, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Early Man Studies: Start Over

Anthropologist Leslea J. Hlusko (U. of Illinois) had some stern advice for her paleoanthropologist colleagues in PNAS1 recently.  Noting that “Competing interpretations of human origins and evolution have recently proliferated despite the accelerated pace of fossil discovery,” she thinks an approach is needed that integrates genetics and development with the search for bones.  She takes issue with three presumptions that can confuse and mislead the interpretation of fossils:

  1. Presumption 1: Anatomical Traits are Independent.
    Genetic studies, on the contrary, have shown that multiple traits can be linked because of pleiotropic effects.  Also, the number of labeled traits may not correspond to the number of genes affecting those traits.
  2. Presumption 2: Most Anatomical Traits Are Adaptively Informative.
    Pleiotropic effects may also blur the interpretation of single traits.  In Lucy, for instance, the genes that shorten fingers may simultaneously shorten toes.  The shortened fingers, therefore, may not be a clue that the animal was spending less time in trees.
  3. Presumption 3: Small-Scale Morphological Change Is Almost Always Parsimonious.
    This is not always the case.  Measurements of trends in enamel thickness on teeth, for instance, appear to have no correlation to sex or tooth size.  Rapid changes can occur with dietary change, not evolution.  “All of this clearly makes the paleontologist’s task of identifying the most phylogenetically informative traits difficult and complex.”

She warns bone hunters to recognize that they need to take genetics and development into account.  “The standard response to controversy in paleontology is that more fossils will resolve the issue.”  Not necessarily; “even for species with adequate fossil records, new and different approaches like those suggested here will be necessary.”


1Leslea J. Hlusko, “Integrating the genotype and phenotype in hominid paleontology,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, March 2, 2004, vol. 101, no. 9, pp. 2653�2657. Published online before print.

This is a revealing article that basically says, “everything you know is wrong, and we hope we can figure out the truth some day by starting over.”  Like so often reported here, it is more admission of ignorance and promises of futureware.  Quote-hunters might find a bonanza in this article.
    Not only that, Hlusko points out the tremendous complexity of genetic and developmental mechanisms.  She mentions that more than 250 genes are known to be involved in the development of dentition.  Are we being asked to believe that those genes all evolved by chance, and that they must mutate together to keep an animal having a proper bite?  What if a tooth on the upper jaw mutates, but the one on the lower jaw doesn’t?  Teeth need to match.
    Remember how much propaganda the Darwinists got out of one tooth in the case of Nebraska man?  (It turned out to be a pig’s tooth.)  Even today, a debater for evolution claimed that a good anatomist can tell a lot about a creature from a tooth.  But if all you have is a tooth, even if it is the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth, would it convince a jury?  Not if they read this article first.
    Things are not looking good for the pseudoscience of human evolution.  Digging up bones in Africa may be a sport, but interpreting what they mean is often a function of the storytelling ability of the discoverer.  Does hominid dentition tell us anything about human ancestry?  Don’t bite on it.

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Categories: Early Man

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