Homo naledi Is Young
The media are abuzz with disappointment that this cache of bones in South Africa is too young to be a missing link.
Homo naledi is one of the most astonishing “hominin” fossil finds in recent years, on par with the “hobbits” (Homo floresiensis) of Indonesia. Debates have gone wild since Lee Berger announced hundreds of bones and skulls from a nearly inaccessible cave chamber in South Africa in 2015 (discovered in 2013). The bones appeared to belong to a single type of hominin which had a mosaic of modern and primitive features. The chamber where they were found led some to believe that the tribe used it for burial, implying cultural intelligence; others argued that animals had dragged them in there. Resolution of the controversy centered on the evolutionary date for the fossils. If they were on the order of two million years, they could be considered possibly transitional, but not if they were much younger. Well, now the answer is out; they’re young: between 236,000 and 335,000 Darwin years old. Here’s what the media are saying:
This is astonishingly young for a species that still displays primitive characteristics found in fossils about two million years old. —Chris Stringer
Primitive hominid lived alongside modern humans (Science Daily). “The oldest dated fossils of Homo sapiens in Africa are around 200,000 years old. And now we have a very primitive looking hominid that probably existed at the same time as them.”
Homonin [sic] discovered in 2015 by the Rising Star team in South Africa was alive between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago (Science Daily).
At such a young age, in a period known as the late Middle Pleistocene, it was previously thought that only Homo sapiens (modern humans) existed in Africa. More critically, it is at precisely this time that we see the rise of what has been called “modern human behaviour” in southern Africa — behaviour attributed, until now, to the rise of modern humans and thought to represent the origins of complex modern human activities such as burial of the dead, self-adornment and complex tools.
Did This Mysterious Ape-Human Once Live Alongside Our Ancestors? (National Geographic). “After adding Homo naledi to the human family tree, researchers reveal that the species is younger than it seems.”
Amazing haul of ancient human finds unveiled (BBC News). Chris Stringer says, “This is astonishingly young for a species that still displays primitive characteristics found in fossils about two million years old.”
Meet ‘Neo’, the most complete skeleton of Homo naledi ever found (New Scientist).
This new way of thinking might have profound implications, he says. For instance, H. naledi’s odd mix of features – some strikingly modern-looking, some more ancient – hints that the emergence of recognisably modern human anatomy was far more complicated than originally thought.
And the idea that H. naledi might have survived in the crucible of human evolution for two million years should put to rest the idea that competition between human lineages drove a universal march to larger and larger brains. “It was always just a tale – and it’s ended now,” says Berger.
Even the archaeological record of stone tools might need to be reassessed given that H. naledi’s modern-looking hands should have been capable of fine manipulation. In a third paper, Berger’s team speculates that stone tools generally assumed to be the work of recognisably modern humans like Homo erectus or even early H. sapiens might have been the handiwork of H. naledi.
We can only guess what implications that might have for understanding how ancient humans spread out of Africa. Perhaps significantly, H. naledi’s anatomy suggests it could walk long distances.
Clearly, Homo naledi was no chump of a chimp. Maybe it was just an odd member of the human race – small in stature, but possessing all the essentials of intelligence, tool-making, and planning. The discovery of a second burial site pretty much confirms the theory that they buried their dead. And it becomes quite a stretch to imagine them living for 2 million years into the time of fully modern humans without evolving themselves.
Hammer Blows from Two Wood Experts
Bernard Wood, a well-regarded evolutionary paleoanthropologist, takes the top-down approach that these are modern human beings that evolved downward due to isolation. New Scientist says,
Bernard Wood at The George Washington University in Washington DC is not surprised by the age. Just months after the first H. naledi papers were published he bet a colleague that the species would turn out to be less than 500,000 years old. It was the hands that did it for him, he says. “My sense was that having a relatively modern hand and foot was important,” he says.
Wood thinks a full evolutionary analysis might conclude from those modern hands and feet that H. naledi branched off from other humans relatively recently. “Its primitive features might be misleading,” he says. This would mean it originated recently and then evolved to look more primitive due to isolation.
Todd Wood is a creation scientist who follows paleoanthropology closely, and determines the limits of human and ape variation. He was delighted to hear the news on his blog today. Dr. Wood paid special attention to the discovery of a second burial chamber:
The Lesedi chamber is described as almost as inaccessible as the original Dinaledi chamber, and they report 131 hominin specimens. In the press release at the Wits website, John Hawks has this to say about it:
“This likely adds weight to the hypothesis that Homo naledi was using dark, remote places to cache its dead,” says Hawks. “What are the odds of a second, almost identical occurrence happening by chance?”
Notice what Hawks is doing here: That’s Dembski’s design filter, isn’t it? There’s no natural law that says hominin remains should be found in caves, so that leaves chance and design as explanations.
Over the years, Todd Wood has carefully plotted features of all the known hominin skulls, and finds that they cluster into two non-overlapping groups: those that are ape, and those that are human.
Sighs of discouragement are heard in the Darwin castle. Evolutionists will certainly stick to their story, but it becomes more implausible with each turn. Prediction: they will find a way to re-date these bones to millions of years old, not because of the evidence, but because of the need to save the evolutionary worldview. Evolutionists obsess over trying to arrange the bones in a progressive sequence, but they impose the story on the bones, not derive it from them.
Creationists can accept a fair amount of variation in the human race. Look at the differences between the world’s tallest and smallest men. Different tribes have recognizable, distinct traits. If a group separates from the population and inbreeds heavily, certain traits will be accentuated over a relatively short time, just a few centuries or millennia since Babel. That’s apparently what happened to H. naledi, the hobbits, Homo erectus and the other upright-walking, tool-using groups found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. It’s certainly possible to envision a population of small humans living together, given that we have pygmy tribes today, and know about dwarfs who are fully human and intelligent.