More Early Man Troubles (Again)
Bones have a way of whacking the stories made up about them.
Several problems have come up in the news about human evolution.
Homo naledi: John Hawks is frustrated that nobody has settled on a date for this South African cave dweller. The latest guess is 912,000 years, but that’s too young for many, given its supposedly primitive state. If it really lived that late, according to Charles Q. Choi on Live Science, paleoanthropologists will have to change their picture of human evolution. It would mean early Africa was a melting pot of species that lived around the same time, not one species evolving to replace another on the advance to modernity. This is not an exact science, mind you:
Collard said he expected this new age estimate would draw a lot of skepticism from other scientists. “Their skepticism will be entirely understandable,” he said. “Even now, I remain a bit skeptical about it. I think it’s well-enough supported to put it out there, but I’m not about to bet my house on it. That said, I think it’s worth the field pondering the implications for our understanding of human evolution if the age estimate is about right and H. naledi is around a million years old.”
Homo floresiensis: Evidence that modern humans were using fire on the same island as the famous “hobbit” humans only 41,000 years ago tosses new confusion into the picture in Indonesia. The “rather unexpected” finding, according to PhysOrg, might help explain why the hobbits disappeared, assuming the moderns drove them to extinction. But why modern, physically and mentally capable people would limit themselves to a life of building campfires from 41,000 years ago to 24,000 years ago without making cities and farms remains a conundrum (see 6/10/16). 17,000 years of that kind of simple life is longer than all recorded human history from villages to the space age.
Homo sapiens in Borneo: A specimen found in a Borneo cave is “full of surprises,” PhysOrg writes. Why? “A new study of the 37,000-year old remains of the ‘Deep Skull’ – the oldest modern human discovered in island South-East Asia – has revealed this ancient person was not related to Indigenous Australians, as had been originally thought,” the article says. That’s surprise one. “The Deep Skull was also likely to have been an older woman, rather than a teenage boy.” That’s surprise two. In fact, the bones look like the people of Borneo today. So other than getting the gender, age, and relations wrong, is everything else hunky-dory? “Our analysis overturns long-held views about the early history of this region.”
On The Conversation, Robert Foley from Cambridge asserts that “we have been looking at human evolution the wrong way.” Who’s we, paleface? you might be asking, looking at the photo of a museum ape-man at the beginning of his piece.
Understanding exactly how and why humans evolved is clearly one of the most important goals in science. But despite a significant amount of research to date, these questions have remained a bit of a mystery. Of course, there is no shortage of theories – it has even been suggested that humans are just visiting aliens. However, most of the credible models tend to take something that is unique to humans – such as language – and show how all the other bits of being human derive from that.
So does Foley have a better theory to offer? Not really; his ideas are a hodgepodge of gradualism, mosaicism and cooperation. He thinks most of our ancestors were small folk. “We may picture our ancestors as rugged versions of ourselves, tall and strong, but they were not,” he claims. “We need to start thinking of them as creatures that were as unique as ourselves, but in different ways.” If we need to “start thinking” of them differently, it implies we (that is, anthropologists) “have been thinking” of them incorrectly. His conclusion: more research is needed.
Why do we listen to these guys? They keep changing their stories. They don’t know what they are talking about. The long ages are concocted to keep Charlie’s story going, facts or not.
Collard wants us to be skeptical, so be skeptical. Take a look at the record book. It makes perfect sense. People don’t sit around in caves for hundreds of thousands of years. They spread out and achieve great things. It’s what we do today; it’s what humans have always done.