October 8, 2019 | Jerry Bergman

Turkana Boy Hurts Evolutionary Narratives


Turkana Boy Debate Continues

Scientists cannot conclude even basic information from the most complete human skeleton ever found

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The Turkana Boy or ‘Nariokotome Boy’ discovery was recently mentioned by Tomkins[1] and a popular website that deals with human evolution.[2] Called a “nearly complete” skeleton and well preserved (though missing most all of the hand and foot bones), it is actually only 40 percent complete based on the assumption that bones from one side of the body can accurately determine the traits of the bones on the other side. They thus can be used to construct some missing bones. Actually, aside from Lucy, Turkana Boy is the most complete evolutionary pre-human skeleton ever discovered. Most claimed early-man fossils consist of a few teeth, plus broken skull and other bone fragments. From these, entire species and populations are concocted by Darwinians.

Consequently, finding a 40-percent-complete skeleton is a significant discovery.  The bone count of Turkana Boy is 108 bones out of an average of 206 for modern humans, but the count may include some broken bones. From this lone skeleton an entire race of people has evolved, at least in the stories told by others, such as Professors Alan Walker and his wife Pat Shipman.[3] The possibility that Turkana Boy was an unusual looking child in his culture was rarely considered. Instead, he is portrayed as typical of his people – just one of many unwarranted assumptions in the Turkana Boy story.

This, one of the most complete so-called ancient man skeletons ever found, reveals that this ancient man is close to identical to modern men, actually within the range of modern humans.[4] As usual, even in this case, much disagreement exists about his scientific classification. Some paleontologists label him an Homo erectus  and others regard him as distinctive enough to be regarded as a separate species, which they call Homo ergaster.[5] Professor Walker went further and even called him the “proverbial missing link between apes and humans.”[6] This exaggerated claim is a good example of confirmational bias, meaning that one sees what one wants to see in the evidence. Comparisons of the bones with modern human bones show that claim is manifestly untrue except possibly for the skull, which will be discussed shortly. If only a few fossil bone fragments are discovered (as is the norm), usually even more controversy erupts about the status of the fragments. Controversy about early man fossils is the norm.

The public press on Turkana Boy has been minuscule compared to that of Lucy, likely because this find was claimed to be 1.4 million years old by some experts and as old as 1.9 million Darwin years by others.[7] By implication, little or no human evolution has occurred in 1.9 million years. This is a major blow to classical evolution. As far as we can tell, the only difference between Turkana Boy and modern humans is some Neanderthal traits in the skull. We now know, however, that Neanderthals are simply another human variation within Homo: i.e., another people group. The date of Turkana Boy illustrates that some of the other putative evolutionary ancestors cannot be our ancestors because they were close to contemporary with some modern humans such as Turkana Boy!

In spite of its completeness, much debate still exists even on basic data, such as its age, the cause of death, and even its sex. For example, it was postulated that Turkana Boy suffered from some congenital disorder, either dwarfism or scoliosis because the rib bones appeared asymmetrical to the spine due to what appeared to be skeletal dysplasia.[8] From this observation, the conclusion was his vertebrae were diseased, causing a subtle curvature and probably slow movement which may have contributed to his death. A 2013 study shows that, if the rib bones were more carefully arranged, the rib bones were actually symmetrical to the spine, disproving the skeletal dysplasia claim.[9] Who’s right? Is the specimen normal, or disabled?

Background of the Find and Controversy

Turkana Boy was discovered by Kamoya Kimeu in West Turkana, Kenya, in 1984. The skeleton’s completeness has allowed scientists to learn a lot about body size, body shape, and growth rates of people of its time, though much of it still debated.[10] Pelvis evaluation shows he was possibly male, but due to damage on the hip bones, the inference is not firm. Because his second molars had erupted, but not the third molars called wisdom teeth, he was determined to be a pre-adolescent. Microscopic teeth analysis indicates he was eight or nine years old, but other experts put his age at 11–12 years old based on known rates of bone maturity.[11] He was about 5 feet 3 or 5 feet 5 inches tall and likely weighed 106 pounds.

Turkana Boy’s cranial capacity was estimated as small as 700 cc by some, to as large as 900 cubic centimeters by others. It would probably have reached well over 900 to 1,100 cubic centimeters if he had grown into an adult. By comparison, modern humans living today have an average brain size of about 1,350 cubic centimeters and Neanderthals 1,500 cubic centimeters.[12] Of course, there is very little relationship between cranial capacity of normal adult humans and human intelligence, so attempts to prove missing-link status by brain size are questionable.

His disability, if it existed,  could have hindered his movement. He had long legs and narrow shoulders, typical of humans living in hot, dry climates. His bones indicate he did not die from a predator attack because his skeleton shows no damage from either predators or scavengers. His jaw indicates that he had a diseased gum in the location where a deciduous molar, a baby tooth, was shed. An infection could have set in and he may have died of septicemia (blood poisoning), but others dispute this conclusion.

Turkana Boy likely made and used stone tools including both stone cores and flakes and even large cutting tools such as hand axes. The term “Ergaster” is derived from the Greek word for “workman,” in reference to the comparatively advanced Acheulean technology this group developed. From this observation, a novel was completed by a French author claiming that Turkana Boy was on the brink of modern human evolution.[13]

Racism Continues in Evolutionary Anthropology

Artwork of Turkana Boy, as illustrated below, shows him with exaggerated African traits. This shows racism, because traits like skin color and nose shape are not preserved in fossils. Thus, the racial inference is due to artistic license. The artwork continues a long Darwinian tradition that assumes blacks are less evolved than whites, as believed by racists and the Ku Klux Klan for the last century. The main so-called ‘primitive’ traits include low sloping forehead, strong brow ridges, and the absence of a chin – traits typical of Neanderthals.

This image may not be used in any context outside of mainstream science without the express permission of Atelier Daynes. Permission must be cleared for use by museums, in exhibitions, private use and front covers. No use in articles about Elisabeth Daynes or the Atelier Daynes.
Turkana Boy model. Reconstruction of Turkana Boy, a specimen of the hominin Homo ergaster. Also known as Nariokotome Boy, this specimen is catalogued as KNM-WT 15000. It consists of an almost complete fossil skeleton, and dates from around 1.5 million years ago. It was found in 1984 near Lake Turkana in Kenya. This specimen is sometimes classified as Homo erectus. Reconstruction by Elisabeth Daynes of the Daynes Studio, Paris, France. Wikimedia Commons


Even when a largely complete, well-preserved skeleton of a claimed ancient man is located, much debate still arises about even the basic facts about the human that possessed it. One must remember that a skeleton is only 15 percent of the human body, and because most human fossils consist of only small fragments, it is much more difficult to extrapolate facts from the fragments.[14] Consequently, 85 percent of the body cannot be evaluated, and interpretations and extrapolation must be made from the 15 percent available for study.


[1] Jeffrey Tomkins. “Homo Erectus: The Ape Man that Wasn’t.” Impact, October 2019,pp. 11-13.
[2] Factsanddetails.com
[3] Walker, Alan  and Pat Shipman. 1996. The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
[4] Tomkins, p. 11.
[5] Maina Kiarie. “Homo Ergaster & Homo Erectus.” http://www.enzimuseum.org/the-stone-age/stone-age-ancestors/homo-ergaster.
[6] Walker, Alan and Pat Shipman.1996. Book jacket.
[7] Homo ergaster. 2018. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/homo_ergaster.htm.
[8] MacLarnon, Ann M. 1993. “The vertebrate canal,” in: Alan Walker, Richard Leakey (Eds.). The Nariokotome Homo Erectus Skeleton. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 359–390.
[9] Schiess, R., and M. Haeusler. 2013. “No Skeletal Dysplasia in the Nariokotome Boy KNM-WT 15000 (Homo erectus)—A Reassessment of Congenital Pathologies of the Vertebral Column.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology150 (3): 365–374.
[10] Brown, F. J. Harris, R. Leakey and A. Walker. 1985. Early Homo erectus skeleton from west Lake Turkana, Kenya. Nature316(6031):788–792.
[11] Walker, Alan; and Richard Leakey. 1993. The Nariokotome Homo erectus Skeleton. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Nature Group, p. 235.
[12] Clinton, Keely. 2015. “Average Cranium/ Brain Size of Homo neanderthalensis vs. Homo sapiens.” https://www.cobbresearchlab.com/issue-2-1/2015/12/24/average-cranium-brain-size-of-homo-neanderthalensis-vs-homo-sapiens.
[13] Beauchemin, Jean-François and Jessica Moore. 2012. Turkana Boy. New York, NY: Talonbooks, p. 62.
[14] Dilthey, Max Roman. 2018. “What Percentage of Body Mass is Bone?” https://www.livestrong.com/article/368497-percentage-of-body-mass-bone/.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology at several colleges and universities including for over 40 years at Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored, are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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