December 4, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Homo erectus Joins Art Society

Etchings on a shell said to be 500,000 years old are shaking up evolutionary paleoanthropologists.  Why? Evidence of abstract thinking far too early.

The scratchings on shells found on the island of Java look simple enough: just zigzags, one in the shape of a letter M; also, there’s evidence for fancy fingerwork in the holes drilled into the muscle to allow the ancestors to open the shells and eat the marine mollusks.  It’s the date that’s throwing evolutionists into awe and disbelief.  According to Nature, they are half a million years old, some ten times older than controversial Neanderthal etchings reported in September (BBC News), and twelve times older than the cave art in Indonesia that surprised evolutionists two months ago (10/14/14).  First, some media reactions:

  • “But what is most surprising about the half-a-million-year-old doodle is its likely creator — the human ancestor Homo erectus.” (Nature)
  • “…some the most intriguing behavioral evidence yet.” (Live Science)
  • “…came as a total surprise.” (University of Leiden)
  • “Our Homo erectus ancestors may have been smarter and more creative than we thought…. profound implications for human evolution…. Hairy and beetle-browed, H. erectus was never before thought to have such talents.” (National Geographic)
  • “by far the oldest engraving ever found, challenging what we know about the origin of art and complex human thought” (New Scientist)
  • “One finds what one expects, but we never expected to find this.” (Science Magazine)

But how do scientists know this is authentic, from so long ago?  After all, the etchings were spotted in a cigar box full of shells stored at the University of Leiden.  They had been collected by Eugene Dubois in the same place he found his famous Java Man specimens in the 1890s that shocked the world and appeared to support human evolution.  In 2007, a grad student, fumbling through the shells, got the “shock of his life,” Science Magazine says, when he noticed the etchings on a shell.  Apparently, in the intervening time, researchers wanted to ensure the etchings were authentic before going public.  The verdict: intelligent design—”We’ve looked at all possibilities, but in the end we are really certain that this must have been made by an agent who did a very deliberate action with a very sharp implement” (Nature News).  Scientists are assuming Homo erectus was the agent, because from dates arrived at by analyzing sand in the shells, Homo sapiens had not yet evolved (in the evolutionary timeline).  The original paper was published online in Nature on December 3, 2014.

Science Magazine‘s article by Michael Balter does a pretty good job of pre-answering most of the possible objections, such as the idea they were a hoax carved by bored students after they were collected.  No, the scientists ruled that out; moreover, they used several techniques to establish the date and provenance of the shells.  It appears that paleoanthropologists are stuck with the find as real—along with the implications.  Those implications are stated at the end of the National Geographic article:

In their Nature paper, Joordens’s group avoids terms like art, symbolism, and modernity. It’s hard to know, she said, the intentions of the engraver. But if the shell was 100,000 years old and found among Homo sapiens fossils, “it would easily be called symbolic or early art.

“This raises the big, hairy question of what is ‘modern human behavior’ all over again,” said paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman of Pennsylvania State University.

Indeed, the very notion of modern humans as being cognitively unique is now “up for reconsideration,” said Joordens.

The way some are spinning this “total surprise” is to downplay human exceptionalism.  Live Science quotes Joordens: “We as humans tend to be a bit species-centricwe think we are so great and they must have been a bit more stupid than us, but I’m not sure,” said the study’s lead researcher, Josephine Joordens, a postdoctorial researcher of archaeology at Leiden University, in the Netherlands. “We need to appreciate the capacities of our ancestors a bit more.”

This attitude assumes that Homo erectus were pre-human, but as other reports have “surprised” evolutionary anthropologists, the more we learn about them, the more they look like people with slightly different build (see 10/14/13, 10/18/13, 12/18/03, 1/03/14, 2/03/14, or search on erectus).  The spin also suppresses the problem of the origin of this cognitive ability.  It also assumes that the long ages are valid.  Did people smart enough to make tools, use fire and carve symbols in seashells really have nothing better to do for half a million years?

It’s always funny to watch the evolutionists act surprised.  Everything in evolutionary paleoanthropology is a surprise, because they are so wrong, they are not even wrong.  “Surprised” is the new normal.  Hearing that a new finding will “challenge all we thought we knew” is normal.  Reading that a new find raises big, hairy questions is normal.  Hearing that it has “profound implications for human evolution” is normal.  What would really be surprising would be to find an evolutionary anthropologist declare that a finding was just what they expected.

We get miffed at the expression “than we thought” (e.g., National Geographic, “Our Homo erectus ancestors may have been smarter and more creative than we thought.“).  Who’s we, paleface?  Please qualify it next time: “ancestors may have been smarter and more creative than” foolish evolutionist speculators “thought.”  In a way, that’s very true, except for the evolutionists’ superior skill at confabulation.

Incidentally, we caught this admission in Balter’s article in Science about Dubois and Java Man: “the human fossils found there (which include a skullcap widely agreed to be H. erectus and a thigh bone that could belong to either H. erectus or H. sapiens, a matter of sharp debate) were washed into the site by a powerful flood.”  Aha!  Creationists take note!  Was Java man was contemporary with modern man? Were they buried in a Flood? They said it, not us.

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  • tjguy says:

    “washed into the site by a powerful flood.”

    A powerful flood can explain a lot of things much better than the standard paradigm. It also brings into question a lot of the interpretations of the standard paradigm such as the idea that the animals buried there also lived in the same area where they were buried. That would not necessarily be the case if they were washed into the area.

    Properly interpreting history from a few snapshots of the past that we find in the fossil record is not an easy thing. And checking your interpretation is even more difficult!

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