Man, Mammals, and Ice Ages
What do scientists really know about early man and the creatures in his habitat? Some clues can be found by following science news in a historical fashion: that is, to look for reversals of previously-held opinions, surprises in fossils, and other evidences that scientists are not really making progress in their theories, despite the common perception of scientists as the sages of our age. Here are some recent articles involving fossils related to ice ages. Evolutionists believe there were many ice ages, covering billions of years. Some creationists believe there was only one fluctuating ice age that was relatively brief (centuries, not millions of years).
- Cartoon anticipates science, or vice versa: Many news sources had fun with the idea that Scrat, the unlucky sabre-toothed squirrel of the “Ice Age” animated features, has come to life in a fossil found in Patagonia (see New Scientist, Live Science, BBC News, PhysOrg and Nature Nov 3, pp. 51-52). Alleged to be 100 million years old (Cretaceous), little mouse-sized Cronopius surprised scientists with its long canines and narrow muzzle. This is only the second Cretaceous mammal known from South America. They don’t know what the sabre teeth were used for. As for the cartoon connection, the following quote makes it clear that the paleontologists did not expect such a bizarre creature: “I remember when I saw the movie I thought, ‘why have they done this ridiculous animal – there is no such thing?’” said discoverer Guillermo Rougier [U of Louisville] in the BBC article. “And then we find something that kind of looks like it. But it just goes to show – we know so little about the actual diversity of mammals that even some very wild guesses might come through; they might actually be present in the fossil record.” Christian de Muizon in Nature concurred; “Little is known about mammalian evolution in South America during the age of the dinosaurs,” he said, lamenting that “our knowledge is terribly incomplete.” Inconsistent, too: “This pattern of mammalian evolution in South America apparently differs from that of the northern continents,” he said. In the PhysOrg article, Rougier added, “these new fossils give us information on how transient and ever-evolving our world is.” Whether “terribly incomplete” information constitutes “knowledge” is a separate question.
- Mammoth slay or sleigh: A debate going on for decades is how the wooly mammoths and other ice-age fauna went extinct. Did early humans kill them all, or did they succumb to environmental changes? In Nature News, Ewen Callaway on Nov. 2 indicated that “Fossils, climate records and DNA reveal unpredictability of ice-age die-offs.” Humans are apparently off the hook for causing the extinctions (at least for now). According to Callaway, a “huge analysis of fossils, climate records and DNA” leads to the conclusion that different species died from different causes. Predictability is usually considered a value in science, but “The team found no way to predict the future extinction of a species, based on either an animal’s genetic diversity or the size of its range.” Despite the heroic efforts of Endangered Species programs to conserve biodiversity, this finding “hints that it could be more difficult than thought to identify the species at greatest risk of disappearing today.” Even with humans spreading around the globe between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago in the evolutionary timeline, whatever happened to the Ice Age megafauna appears to have been random. Most amusing was a comment by Eske Willerslev (U of Copenhagen): “If you ran the whole experiment again, we would have woolly mammoths and no reindeer, so Santa would drag his sleigh with woolly mammoths.” He did not describe what this might do to rooftops.
- Big bear bite: The BBC News claims that an African bear that went extinct five million years ago had the strongest bite of any land animal. Polar bears were fat-suckers compared to this giant, whose bite was “considerably greater than for the largest of living big cats, or any living bear,” according to researchers at the University of Newcastle. “These extinct giants lived in Africa at the end of the Miocene epoch and into the Pleistocene – five million years ago – and measured up to 2.7m in length,” Note: later cave bears of the last ice age (during the Pleistocene epoch in evolutionary time), not considered related to Agriotherium, have been found in abundance, but only in the northern hemisphere. (This article did not discuss evolution, even bearly.)
- Early modern trend: The old story was that modern humans moved in on the Neanderthals 35,000 years ago or so and took over. Besides being successful for 160,000 years or more, the Neanderthals (brutish as long portrayed) were no match for “us” with our sagacious brains. This made a nice story while it lasted (good for artists), but alas, dead teeth tell tales. Re-analysis of teeth from England and Italy show them to be modern and 41,000 to 45,000 years old in evolutionary time. PhysOrg said this means “Homo sapiens arrived in Europe earlier than previously believed.” New Scientist said this means “Modern humans raced across Europe,” because “The implication is that our species spread across Europe from the south-east far more rapidly than previously thought.” There’s always an upside spin: “The new dating of the bone is expected to help scientists pin down how quickly the modern humans spread across Europe during the last Ice Age,” Science Daily said. “It also helps confirm the much-debated theory that early humans coexisted with Neanderthals.”
- Sexual revolution: Stories continue about inter-racial dating between the earliest members of Homo. Though an unthinkable notion just a few years ago, the above articles couldn’t resist speculating about tempting trysts, given the increased overlap time of the two populations. New Scientist said, “The finds re-emphasise that modern humans occupied Europe at the same time as Neanderthals, adding to speculation that the two species may have interbred there.” National Geographic News took the idea further, stating, “First it was the earliest Europeans and Neanderthals. Now it appears that modern humans in Southeast Asia also became intimate with their prehistoric relatives.” Taxonomically speaking, this makes it difficult to classify Homo neanderthalensis as something “other” than Homo sapiens, or “I, Sage.”
- The dream is alive: Ice-age humans didn’t dream up spotted horses when they painted them on cave walls. That had been the official story before: the cavemen painted mythical beasts as part of some kind of mystical ritual, perhaps signaling the origins of religion. Now, new evidence suggests that there actually were spotted horses when modern humans depicted them 25,000 years ago (in evolutionary time). See Live Science and the BBC News for photos of the paintings from the Pech Merle cave complex in France. New genetic evidence by Pruvost et al., published today in PNAS (November 7, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1108982108) suggests that there was enough diversity in horse fur traits to generate spots. The BBC article ends, “The domestication of horses, which produced modern breeds, is thought to have begun about 4,600 years old [sic] in the steppe between modern Ukraine and Kazakhstan.” The authors did not apparently wonder how modern humans, fully equipped with bodies and minds like ours, looked upon horses for at least 20,000 years without hopping on one to see what happens.
- Occupy the crazy world: With so many upsets in the story of human evolution, it’s downright depressing. One way to avoid going insane over the constant reversals is to legitimize insanity. Is that what Kate Revilious is doing in New Scientist? She turned mental illness into evolution’s toolkit, claiming, “Mental problems gave early humans an edge.” Whether speaking of schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, ADHD or other syndromes considered problematic in today’s world, she envisioned eccentric human ancestors with “maverick minds” that might have “contributed to our evolutionary success” somehow, perhaps kick-starting the technical revolution. Revilious did not consider how an evolutionist would discriminate a mentally ill scientist from a “normal” one, if mental illness is a sign of fitness, and if an undirected process has no standard by which to judge normality.
- Hard to keep a good mankind down: The Garamantes, a people group living in the Libyan desert from AD 1-500, were thought to be relatively unsophisticated, a group of “barbaric nomads and troublemakers on the edge of the Roman Empire.” Now, however, satellite imagery is revealing evidence of heretofore unknown talent hidden under the desert sand. The fall of the Gaddafi regime has given scientists improved access to these archaeological remains. PhysOrg reported on revelations of more than 100 fortified farms and towns of mudbrick, showing that their “lifestyle and culture was far more advanced and historically significant than the ancient sources suggested.” Castle-like complexes, four-meter-high walls, sophisticated irrigation systems and other evidences of complex civilization led one observer to remark, “It is like someone coming to England and suddenly discovering all the medieval castles.”
Let’s put these pieces together. The Garamantes had all the physical and mental equipment of Neanderthals and modern humans. True to human form, they built cities, farms, walls, homes, and fortresses. Who can really believe that it took 25,000 years, or 40,000 years, or 50,000 years for “prehistoric” human beings to learn to ride a horse and plant seeds? Some estimates for “anatomically modern humans” go back 100,000 to 200,000 years or more. It is outrageous for normal-thinking people to imagine fully capable humans sitting around in caves hunting mammoths for 195,000 years, many times the length of all recorded human history, if it were not for the constant indoctrination we get in school and the news media that “scientists” are equivalent to “knowers” (shamans) in our culture. “I, Sage!” they proclaim; “Me tell you about Ice Age.”
Please; where in the stories above is there any evidence that these elistists really do know what they are talking about? Yes, they can examine bones in great detail, and describe what they look at – that part does show progress – but when they try to put it all together into a prefabricated story line covering millions of imaginary years, their “progress” is indistinguishable from Brownian motion. They are constantly wrong! So are evolutionary planetary scientists, evolutionary geneticists, evolutionary cosmologists, evolutionary psychologists, evolutionary sociologists, evolutionary cell biologists, evolutionary ecologists, and evolutionary geologists. Is there a common thread in these groups of self-appointed sages? Hint: it’s an adjective starting with the letter “e” signifying a mental disorder characterized by thanklessness and self-deception.