Peking Man Ages 200,000 Years
Dates for Chinese fossils of Homo erectus have been pushed back 200,000 years to 780,000 years before the present, reported Live Science. The report is based on a paper in Nature by scientists who used cosmogenic nuclide dating methods for the first time.1 Ciochon and Bettis, in the same issue of Nature,2 said the report “prompts a rethink of the species’ distribution in both the temperate north and the equatorial south of east Asia.”
Zhoukoudian Cave near Beijing has been a prime site for Homo erectus remains since 1918. “Homo erectus stood 145�180 cm tall, walked fully upright with a modern-like human footprint, and used stone tools,” Ciochon and Bettis said. “The species is easily distinguished from H. sapiens by its distinctive torso, which was much more barrel-shaped and larger in volume.” Six crania and bones of 40 individuals have been found at the site (Ciochon and Bettis count 50 individuals and 17,000 artifacts).
How certain are the dates? A variety of methods have been employed since the 1970s. “A time range of ~230 to 500 kyr ago for the hominin-fossil-bearing layers has been widely accepted by palaeoanthropologists, although with a few critical comments,” the authors said. They pointed out problems, though, with previous dating methods:
- The age of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus, commonly known as ‘Peking Man’, has long been pursued, but has remained problematic owing to the lack of suitable dating methods.
- In contrast, much older ages were determined using mass spectrometric U-series dating of intercalated pure and dense calcite samples, known to be a more reliable chronometer.
- The suggestion that Zhoukoudian H. erectus is substantially older than previously estimated remains to be validated by independent checks.
- However, numerical dating beyond the upper limit of mass spectrometric U-series dating, ~600 kyr ago, is difficult in China because the lack of contemporaneous volcanic activity nearly precludes the application of 40Ar/39Ar dating.
The U-series dates, being substantially older, led to their attempt to use an independent method—cosmogenic radionuclide dating. This depends on the exposure time of surface sediments to cosmic radiation. The ratio of aluminum-26 (half-life 717,000 years) and beryllium-10 (half-life 1,360,000 years) in quartz crystals is 6:8:1 when exposed to the ground surface. “Their initial concentrations depend on the mineral’s exposure time, which in turn is controlled by the erosion rate of the host rock,” they explained. “If quartz grains from the surface are deeply buried, for example by deposition in a cave, then the production of cosmogenic nuclides nearly stops.” Because the aluminum-26 decays faster than beryllium-10, the ratio decreases exponentially with a half-life of 1.52 million years. “The strengths of this method are its radiometric basis and its independence from other dating methods,” they said.
Nevertheless, the method must be used with caution. “However, it must be recognized that cave sediments can have complex stratigraphy, particularly in vadose fills. If fossils are mixed with quartz sediments with a prior burial history, the resulting age will be erroneously old.” They took six samples from different levels and four quartzite samples from artifacts that directly indicate hominin presence. Three of the latter were consistent, but one gave an anomalous date of 1.6 Mya (million years ago). “This particular sample could have been taken from an older cave fill or terrace before manufacture,” they suggested, so they threw it out. Of the sediment quartz samples, three gave consistent results “slightly older than, but within error of, the weighted mean of the results from the three artefacts, indicating that some sand might have entered the cave with a previous burial signal.” One sample, though, gave a result of 2.78 Mya. How did they explain that? “This sample may possibly date to an earlier phase of cave formation, as it was collected from a thin sandy layer that is adhered to the north wall and is now out of stratigraphic contact with the main cross-section.” The other two had to be tossed, also. “The two samples from the basal fluvial sediments do not yield statistically meaningful results,” they said; “Their inherited cosmogenic nuclide concentrations are quite low due to rapid erosion in their source area, leading to large uncertainty.”
In summary, they had to eliminate four out of ten measurements to arrive at a consistent result. “Taken together, we consider the weighted mean of the six meaningful measurements, 0.77 [plus or minus] 0.08 Myr, to best represent the age for layers 7�10. This is consistent with both previous U-series and palaeomagnetic data.” Future refinements of these estimates will be necessary, they said, correlating the cave sediments with the local geology and ecological history. They summarized their findings within the wider context of dating uncertainties:
A reliable chronology is critical for resolving debate over the mode of Middle Pleistocene human evolution in East Asia. Previously, the chronology of Chinese sites has been largely based on the U-series and electron spin resonance dating of fossil materials, which are known to be vulnerable to post-burial U migration. 230Th/234U dating of speleothem calcite has repeatedly shown that the previous timescale for Middle�Late Pleistocene hominin sites in China may have been underestimated as a whole. The results of this paper show that such a tendency persists beyond the range of mass spectrometric U-series dating. It is foreseeable that 26Al/10Be burial dating will be applied to other hominin sites in China and elsewhere, contributing substantially to a robust chronological framework and thereby to a better understanding of human evolution.
What are the consequences of the new dates? Ciochon and Bettis claim that Homo erectus arose in equatorial Africa two million years ago, then migrated to Asia 250,000 years later over a 150,000 year period, with some surviving (Solo Man in Java) till 50,000 years ago. If Homo erectus was in Asia as long ago as the new dates indicate, then the population had to endure an ice age. “Many scientists thought that the species moved north with the interglacials and south with the glacials,” the Live Science article said, but Ciochon told them the new date shows they must have hung around during colder periods. It’s not like the land was covered with ice, he explained: it was just a colder, dryer period. Presumably the caves provided some warmth. The new date also tells evolutionary paleoanthropologists there were two migrations–one to China, and one to Java. Before, they thought the Chinese population was related to the Indonesia population. Ciochon told Live Science that Homo erectus had legs: “Aside from Homo sapiens,” he said, “it’s the most widespread hominin species.” One can only wonder why such a migration-capable population took 400,000 years to do reach China when modern man spread from the Fertile Crescent in one thousandth of that time. Despite these questions, Live Science provided its readers a matter-of-fact synopsis of the human evolution saga:
The Homo genus, which includes modern humans, originated in Africa with Homo habilis about 2.5 million years ago. H. erectus likely derived from some early version of H. habilis around 2 million years ago, anthropologists think.
Some portion of the H. erectus population later left Africa and spread out across the Old World (the population left behind in Africa likely led to Homo heidelbergensis, from which the first early Homo sapiens likely derived, Ciochon said). Other sites of H. erectus bones show that the migration had reached Dmanisi, Georgia (in Asia), by about 1.75 million years ago and Java by about 1.6 million years ago.
Filling in details will require future work, like finding more fossils along the migration route, the article said.
1. Shen, Gao, Gao, and Granger, “Age of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus determined with 26Al/10Be burial dating,” Nature 458, 198-200 (12 March 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature07741.
2. Russell L. Ciochon, and Arthur Bettis III, “Palaeoanthropology: Asian Homo erectus converges in time,” Nature 458, 153-154 (12 March 2009) | doi:10.1038/458153a.
It should become evident that Darwin Party hacks are engaging in another of their colossal storytelling episodes. This is akin to listening to an ancient Babylonian creation myth. The only difference is improved arcane terminology with which they con the listeners into thinking they are worthy Shamans, worthy of respect as Wise Knowers.
If you think this judgment is too harsh, look at what they did. They tossed out half their samples to get the dates they wanted—dates that would match up with their predetermined myth. Well, we think they should use the outlier measurements: we propose that our ancestors emerged suddenly 2.78 million years ago, then just sat in a cave for 2,730,000 years till the last one, Solo Man, wasted away without a bride (alone again, naturally). We say the African population arose independently, or started when a few Peking Man people moved there. Why not? We have data to support that myth just as much as they have to support theirs. Pick which lie you like better.
This is not science. It is storytelling with a vengeance. Aluminum and beryllium isotopes and cosmic rays have nothing to do with it. These people have a predetermined script they are following. Data are just props to make it sound convincing. For one thing, they completely eliminated from consideration any alternative script (like creation). No matter how much the evidence supports alternatives, and no matter how much data causes problems to their script, they cling to it tenaciously, even when it is absurd on the face of it. Why? Because it supports their naturalistic, materialistic world view.
Consider how absurd their story is. For one thing, they invented a class of “hominins” (a word embedding evolutionary assumptions masquerading as knowledge) to describe as “other” a class of people that are, for all practical purposes, just like us. How many people today can you find on the beach with normal brain size, walking upright, using tools, but sporting a barrel-shaped chest? That description easily fits within the range of human variability. They expect us to believe that these people were smart enough to migrate long distances, endure the cold of an ice age, and make tools, but were too dumb to ride horses or make art or build cities. Smart enough to survive diverse habitats in Georgia, China and Java, they couldn’t figure out for over two million years anything better than cave life. And if you don’t believe this, well, they have the dates to prove it – provided you toss out half the samples they don’t like. These con artists make reckless drafts on the bank of time (07/02/2007), and expect us taxpayers to bail them out with our endless credulity.
Picture a wise person unaccustomed to Western evolutionary mythology listening to this tale and deciding if it made any sense. “What?” he might exclaim. “Are you telling me that upright-walking, world-migrating, tool-making people were not human? And that they lived in caves for two million years – hundreds of times longer than the history of civilization? What planet are you from?” Most of us only give the myth the time of day because we were taught to respect “science” and somehow think the Darwin Party shamans have their reputations tied to that otherwise noble enterprise. The shamans perpetuate the ruse by working in science labs and knowing how to speak the right mumbo-jumbo about uranium isotopes (see association in the Baloney Detector). Occasionally they announce finds that make them “rethink the story of human evolution.” They’re not really rethinking. They’re just rearranging the cave furniture to keep the public thinking they are busy and therefore need the ongoing flow of research dollars. Like the medieval scholars who forbade the populace to read the Scriptures, because only they were capable of interpreting the blatant discrepancies between its teachings and church practice without contradiction, these shamans distract others from pointing out contradictions between the evidence and their stories by hiding behind an appearance of scholarship. Thus we allow them to explain away the contradictions, toss out the anomalies, and arrange the remaining bits into support for their schemes.
If natural disasters were to bury some modern beach bums in California, South Africa, Yugoslavia and Siberia and fossilize their bones, how much would you want to bet that evolutionists would be able to concoct a story of the emergence of man, migrations and all, and support it with dating methods of their choosing? You better believe they could. Their imaginations are constrained only by their prior commitment to their over-arching world view. As long as they could use the data to teach that the universe, life, and man all arose from slow, gradual processes of evolution, a plethora of new papers would hit the journals. With a little selective sampling, a little weeding out of anomalous measurements, and a lot of imagination, they could make the new data fit. The only difference with Homo erectus is that the cave people are no longer here to explain what really happened.
Finding human bones in caves should not be surprising. There are people living in caves today. There are also people living under freeways and in abandoned buses. Whoever lived in the caves of Dmanisi, Beijing and South Africa may have been outcasts, nature-lovers, temporary residents, refugees, early followers of Rousseau or the Sierra Club, or just the dumbest of the tribe with nowhere else to go. Maybe they were expelled from their tribes for not accepting the local myth. Just because they didn’t leave textbooks and iPods among their artifacts doesn’t mean they were non-human. The writer of Hebrews described men of whom the world was not worthy wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:38). Let’s use that to start a new paradigm. It has just as much scientific and historical evidence, if not more: cavemen represent the greatest sojourners on Earth, rejected by their fellow men, but heirs by faith of the promises of God: among them Moses, Elijah, the prophets hid by Obadiah, David, and John the Baptist. On scales of wisdom and righteousness, there are some primitive individuals inhabiting modern research labs.