February 6, 2024 | Jerry Bergman

Homo habilis ‘Handy Man’ Getting Fired

More evolutionists admit
major problems exist with
this fossil and its interpretation

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Homo habilis was generally believed by evolutionists to be the fossils of an extinct hominid of the genus Homo (H. habilis). He was also believed to be the predecessor of the modern humans called Homo erectus. This made him a hoped-for transitional form connecting our genus with the ape-like australopithecines.[1]

The evidence for Homo habilis (Latin for “handy man”), thought to be the first tool user, is primarily from certain sub-Saharan fossil remains associated with evidence of crude stone tools. Evolutionists claim that he flourished from 1.6 to 2 million years ago.

The Fossils

The most famous example is ER 1470, often called Homo rudolfensis,  which the Encyclopedia Britannica paleontologist editor  admits is “a controversial skull.”[2] The name Homo rudolfensis comes from the location of where the fossils were found, specifically near Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana). Paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood, who has closely followed this research, commented about the fossils when they were first announced in 1987:

Opinions about H. habilis differ. Some [paleoanthropologists] see it as a variable, but well-defined, taxon, whereas others [paleoanthropologists] have come to acknowledge that the label H. habilis has been applied to such a heterogenous collection of material that the identity of the ‘real’ H. habilis is now all hut obscured. Johanson and colleagues believe their specimen, OH62. provides evidence that consolidates the taxonomic unity of the H habilis hypodigm, or reference sample. An alternative interpretation is that OH62 confirms that the range of variation within material from the early Pleistocene of East Africa assigned to early Homo is now too great to be sensibly encompassed within one taxon.… The new find rudely exposes how little we know about the early evolution of Homo.[3]

Homo habilis in the museum Kulturama in Zürich, Switzerland. From Wikimedia commons.

Wood concluded that the “answers to these and the many other intriguing questions raised by OH62 Will come only when field workers have provided sufficiently large samples, and when  the deskbound analysts have refined their knowledge of early hominid variation.”[4]

Ongoing Analyses

Many other hominid fossils were found in this location, including Homo habilis and Homo ergaster. These fossils indicate trait variations, just as modern human traits also very greatly. Consequently, we would expect that people who lived eons ago would also vary in this way. Examples of modern human variation include differences in height. Height variations range from the Tutsi (also known as the Watussi) of Rwanda and Burundi, whose average young-adult males average 1.83 m (6 feet tall) to the Pygmies, people whose men are, on average, shorter than 1.55 m (or 5 feet) in height. Likewise, average human-brain-size differences range from African-descended people (Blacks) cranial capacities of 1,267 cm3 and European-descended people (Whites), 1,347 cm3, to East Asian-descended people (East Asians) of 1,364 cm3 according to one large review of the literature. [5] Normal variations similar to cranial capacity variations exist in most all human traits, and would also be expected in the creatures uncovered in the Lake Turkana area.

Another major problem is Homo habilis was assembled from small fragments and only one, possibly two, good fossils exist.[6] Specifically, British paleoanthropologists Meave Leakey, the wife of Richard Leakey, who was the son of Louis Leakey, and Bernard Wood assembled the ER 1470’s skull from over 150 fragments. A similar skull’s, ER 1813’s, anatomical differences caused some paleontologists to reason that these differences were due to sexual dimorphism (i.e., male-female differences) or just normal intraspecies variation.

Several of these problems were noted soon after the discovery of Homo habilis. For example, in 1992, Wood made the following statement which was very damaging to the case for human evolution [7]:

It is remarkable that the taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships of the earliest known representatives of our own genus, Homo, remain obscure. Advances in techniques for absolute dating and reassessments of the fossils themselves have rendered untenable a simple unilineal model of human evolution, in which Homo habilis succeeded the australopithecines and then evolved via H. erectus into H. sapiens — but no clear alternative consensus has yet emerged.[8]

Now, in 2024, the problem in using Homo habilis to document human evolution not only remains unsettled, but makes the case for evolution even worse.


Artist rendition of Homo habilis. Compare this rendering with the Kulturama skull. As is true for most the skeletal remains found no bone evidence exists for the nose and mouth design. From Wikimedia Commons.

The brain is the major organ of concern to evolutionists in trying to provide evidence for human evolution. The brain’s size and structure are key traits analyzed. Consequently, this topic has captured substantial attention of evolutionists endeavoring to show human evolution. Many evolutionists, therefore, expected that the neuroanatomy of Homo habilis would show evidence of a clear change toward many of the cerebral traits associated with modern humans.[9]

New Methods Increase the Problems

In January 2023, Bruner & Beaudet reviewed the evidence produced from three decades of research on the Homo habilis brain.[10] They found that, after more than 36 years, the fossil record evidence associated with this taxon has not significantly improved, even though scientists now have much more information on cranial and brain biology. Scientists now

are using a larger array of digital methods to investigate the paleoneurological variation observed in the human genus…. . Although the field of paleoneurology can currently count on a larger range of tools and principles, there is still a general lack of anatomical information on many endocranial traits. This aspect is probably crucial for the agenda of paleoneurology. … the disciplines working with fossils (and, in particular, with brain evolution) should take particular care to maintain a healthy professional situation, avoiding an excess of speculation and overstatement.[11]

In spite of these benefits of new technology, after more than 36 years since the publication of Tobias’ article,

there are still few human species for which the paleoneurological evidence is consistent enough to support reliable anatomical information. This is why, to date, many hypotheses on the evolution of the human brain form are still speculative, and sensitive to major changes when new specimens are described. This is mostly true when dealing with early Homo, and the H. habilis hypodigm has not significantly expanded.[12]

Even worse, Homo habilis, although “much debated in the last 20 years, has not found a proper taxonomic validation yet.”[13] One reason for this confusion is that the

attention of the mass media for science and research is prompting a compulsive marketing based on appearance and fast vending news, at the expense of content and quality. Paleontological fields are characterized by issues that can be hardly proven, charming topics, and harmless conclusions (in the sense that they have no direct consequences on people’s welfare). These three features make these fields more sensitive to contamination associated with personal, institutional, and economic interests, generating a conflict between scientific proficiency and public visibility. Excessive speculations, in this sense, can seriously harm the reputation of the discipline.[14]

The open admissions by these leading paleoanthropologists published in leading peer-reviewed science magazines is only part of the growing case against human evolution from some primitive prehuman.[15] I predict that the case against human evolution will continue to grow as science knowledge expands.

How secular elites will deal with these problems are of interest to those of us who have a different worldview. Likely, their beliefs will not change. Instead, new explanations will be proposed to explain away the lack of evidence for human evolution. Darwinians trust that human evolution is true despite the lack of evidence. One of their solutions for the paucity of evidence is to push the evolutionary changes hundreds of millions of years further back in time. Another solution (or rescue device) is to propose looking for the missing evidence in other fields such as genetics.[16]

Summary

The review by Bruner and Beaudet illustrates the fact that evidence for human evolution from some lower-level primate is, at best, sketchy and, at worst, non-existent. The situation concords with views of both Intelligent Design supporters and creationists. The fact that the opinions quoted above hail from experts at leading secular institutions in paleontology is significant. Their admissions are even more telling when one considers that human evolution is a central plank in the secular worldview.

Ed. note: Dr Bergman is co-author of Apes as Ancestors (2020), which contains a chapter on Homo habilis by Peter Line. That chapter (with 344 references!) shows all the fossils, locations, and opinions by paleoanthropologists, concluding that the fossil evidence contains a mix of creatures, some australopithecine, and some Homo erectus. We also recommend Contested Bones by Rupe and Sanford (2019) which has a chapter on Homo habilis. They quote eminent paleoanthropologists Ian Tattersall and Jeffery Schwartz who call it “an all-embracing ‘wastebasket’ species into which a whole heterogeneous variety of fossils could be conveniently swept.” Most likely, they say, the site included a jumble of  bones of contemporaneous Homo and australopithecine apes that were pieced together into a fictional human ancestor.

See also: Homo habilis contemporary with Homo erectus (9 Aug 2007), Another ‘oldest Homo’ contender alleged (5 March 2015).

References

[1]Bechly,  Günter. “Fossil Friday: New Research Questions the Human Nature of Homo habilis;” Evolution News, 19 January 2024.

[2] Encyclopedia Brittanica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/KNM-ER

[3] Wood, Bernard. “Who is the ‘real’ Homo habilis?”  Nature 327:187–188, 21 May 1987. P. 187.

[4] Wood, Bernard, 1987, p. 188.

[5] Rushton, J. Philippe, and Elizabeth W. Rushton. “Brain size, IQ, and racial-group differences: Evidence from                 musculoskeletal traits.” Intelligence 31(2):139-155, March 2003.

[6] “What does it mean to be human? Homo rudolfensis.” Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, 3 January 2024.

[7] Wood, Bernard. 1987.

[8] Wood, Bernard. “Origin and evolution of the genus Homo.” Nature. 355:783–790, 27 February 1992.

[9] Tobias, Phillip V. 1987. “The brain of Homo habilis: A new level of organization in cerebral evolution.” Journal of Human Evolution 16(7-8):741–761; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0047-2484(87)90022-4.

[10] Bruner, Emiliano, and Amélie Beaudet. “The brain of Homo habilis: Three decades of paleoneurology” Journal of Human Evolution 174, January 2023; 103281.

[11] Bruner and Beaudet, 2023.

[12] Bruner and Beaudet, 2023.

[13] Bruner and Beaudet. 2023.

[14] Bruner and Beaudet, 2023. Italics added.

[15] Wood, Bernard, and Mark Collard. “The changing face of genus Homo.” Evolutionary Anthropology 8:195-207, 30 December 1999.

[16] Alexeev, Valery Pavlovich. The Origin of the Human Race. Progress Publishers, Moscow, Russia, 1986.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including 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 1,800 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 60 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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