Name-Calling at the Human Evolution Meeting
As predicted earlier this month (see 09/03/2004 commentary), Lucy’s lovers were not going to take her demotion lying down. Proponents of Orrorin claim their 6 million year old rival walked upright millions of years before the 2-4 million year old australopithecines, and even had a gait more human-like than Lucy. To Ann Gibbons, reporting in Science1 on a meeting at the French Academy of Sciences last week, this is a serious charge: “If so, australopithecines would be bumped off the direct line to humans—a dramatic revision of our prehistory.”
“Tempers flared” at the meeting of paleoanthropologists in Paris. The sweltering heat outside was matched inside “as scientists hotly debated the attributes of anthropology’s most famous thighbone,” she reports.
More than 100 scholars packed the academy’s opulent, wood-paneled Grande Salle to witness the first face-to-face gathering of the discoverers of the three oldest putative hominids. In talks and a panel discussion, the researchers discussed whether Orrorin and other contenders for the title of earliest human ancestor walked upright and in what manner. Bipedalism is a traditional hallmark of membership in the human family rather than being an ancestor of chimpanzees, gorillas, or quadrupedal apes. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Critics denied the measurements of the thighbone ball-and-socket neck that Orrorin supporters used to support the claim it walked upright. The measurements were made incorrectly, they said, or were incapable of accurate measurement. Tim White, whose “mysterious” specimen Ardipethicus, is a 4.4-million year old contender, “grilled” Bri-Gitte Senut over Orrorin. The heated arguments came to a climax with White calling Senut’s claim a French expletive that provoked an angry reaction:
White accepts that Orrorin walked upright and so is one of the first members of the hominid family. But he says Senut has offered little evidence as to Orrorin’s gait. “Was it human, an Australopithecus pattern, or something different?” he asked. Even standard x-rays would help answer that question. As the discussion grew more heated, White called Senut’s displacement of australopithecines “une position cr�ationniste,” because it suggests that Orrorin’s femur was quite modern 6 million years ago, rather than evolving in stages.
Senut declared indignantly that she is not a creationist—and then asked White to provide his own evidence about the mysterious Ardipithecus ramidus.
White responded by showing photos of broken-up fragments of a bashed-in skull that looked like “roadkill.”
1Ann Gibbons, “Paleoanthropology: Oldest Human Femur Wades Into Controversy,” Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1885 , 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1885a]
Thank you, Ann, for this amusing account of the turf wars in Paris and the demise of evolutionary paleoanthropology. Do you realize how funny this is? It is hilarious partly because they take themselves so seriously. They are fighting over whose fragments of vanity win the prize for best tall tale, and to have it climax in one of them calling the other the C word, well, that’s too much. For more whoppers, just follow the chain links on Early Man for the last four years.
Remember, it was Ann Gibbons who told us 02/15/2002 about yo-yo evolution, the burning branching bush and that the definition of a hominid going into the trash. They’re apparently still digging through trash for evidence to prop up Chairman Charlie’s story. Instead, they find evidence that suggests to them the dreaded C word. Q.E.D.