The Human Evolution Textbook Has to be Rewritten Yet Again!
A cover story in the May, 2017 issue of Scientific American announces, “The Discovery of 3.3 Million-year-old Stone Tools Overturns Long Standing Views on Human Evolution.” The article reviews the finding of “ancient stone tools from Kenya [that] shatter the classic story of when and how humans became innovators” (p. 28). The find, touted as the “oldest stone tools in the world,” was near the city of Lomekwi in northwestern Kenya. Stone tools are viewed as critical for human evolution because they are “the defining characteristics of the Homo genus and the key to our evolutionary success” (p. 30).
When the account is evaluated further, it is not nearly as solid as the headlines imply.
The author, Kate Wong, examined the research findings of Sonia Harmand, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University, and her husband Jason Lewis, a paleontologist at Stony Brook. Harmand and their team of 15 workers were searching for evidence of stone tools made by humans. After weeks of looking, and straining tons of dirt, they finally found some brownish-gray stone fragments about the size of a human finger. The fragments were not only claimed to be the oldest human made tools ever found, but they also “challenged a cherished theory of human evolution” which taught that tool making did not occur until millions of years later (p. 30).
When the account is evaluated further, it is not nearly as solid as the headlines imply. The only evidence of their being made by humans is they look like small chips of stone made by knapping, the act of striking one rock against another. The few rocks found after sifting through tons of dirt, at best, are not stone tools, but only stone chips produced by making stone tools! Furthermore, the stones themselves could not be dated, but some maps of the area dated the sediment at 2.7 million years old (p. 33) and the team is now in the process of attempting to unearth “more evidence that the tools are as old as they appear” (p. 30).
The undated stones could well have been deposited by humans 50 or even 4,000 years ago, or could have been produced by natural processes. The formation of ice in the cracks in rocks can produce similar chips. The concern is not how old the stones are, but when the chips were formed. They could have been formed some months ago, or a few thousand years ago. My guess is a few years ago, but unless we have some eyewitness to testify when they were formed, it will be difficult to determine the date. They appear to be young because the normal extreme heating and cooling of the desert where they were found would surely have softened the stone fragments’ sharp corners, as would animal life inhabiting the ground a few feet below the surface where they were unearthed.
One reason why finds like this are said to require re-writing of the textbooks is because so many of the conclusions based on these finds are largely speculation based on very tenuous evidence. As Mark Twain once wrote, the fossil record of evolution is based on a few bone fragments and several pounds of plaster of Paris, plus lots of imagination. A few of many examples of where new finds forced rewriting the textbooks include:
- National Geographic: “Almost Human: A New Ancestor Shakes Up our Family Tree (October 2016, cover)
- National Geographic: “The First Pioneer? A New Find Shakes the Human Family Tree” (August 2002, cover)
- New Scientist: “New Human Species May Rewrite History (January 2, 2016 cover)
- Newsweek: “The Evolution Revolution: New Science of the Brain and DNA is Rewriting the Story of Human Origins” (from the cover dated March 19, 2007).
Maybe they should have rewritten the textbooks without Darwin glasses on so the evidence can be evaluated objectively based purely on the data.