Review: The Bone Peddlers

The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution, by William Fix, New York: Macmillan, 1984.

William Fix is neither an evolutionist nor a creationist. Instead, his book The Bone Peddlers promoted a theory of his own called "psychogenesis", about which I now remember no more than the name. I read Bone Peddlers some years ago, and no longer have a copy handy for evaluation. I do recall that the chapter on Peking Man was a particularly sleazy hatchet job, rivalling Gish at his worst.

Still, one can get a good idea of the quality of the book from the following table which summarizes his conclusions about the hominid fossil record:

of man:
or first
Promoted by: Career
as missing link:
Neanderthal 1856 Most early evolutionists Abandoned as ancestral species by many anthropologists in 1960s and 1970s
Homo erectus (Java man, Peking man) 1891 Eugene Dubois,
Teilhard de Chardin,
Franz Weidenreich
Ancestral status made highly questionable by discovery of skull 1470 in 1972
Piltdown man 1912 Arthur Keith
and most evolutionists
Exposed as a hoax in 1953
Hesperopithecus 1922 Harold Cook Found to be an extinct pig in 1927
Australopithecus africanus 1924 Raymond Dart,
Robert Ardrey,
Maitland Edey
Disqualified by the discovery of skull 1470 in 1972
Australopithecus robustus 1938 Robert Broom Disqualified by discovery of Homo habilis in 1960s
Gigantopithecus 1946 Franz Weidenreich Dropped by most anthropologists as too improbable
by 1950
Zinjanthropus 1959 Louis Leakey Displaced by Leakey’s discovery of Homo habilis in 1960s
Homo habilis 1960 Louis and Richard Leakey Ancestral status is still indeterminate
Ramapithecus 1964 David Pilbeam
and Elwyn Simons
Found to be the ancestor of Orangutan in 1979
Lothagam man 1967 Bryan Patterson Disqualified by new measurement in 1977
Australopithecus afarensis
1979 Donald Johnson,
Timothy White,
Maitland Edey
Beset by many problems and mounting controversy in early 1980s

First of all, note that many of the items in this list are completely irrelevant to modern thinking about human origins (and some of them were never relevant).

Piltdown Man: this was discovered to be a hoax nearly 50 years ago, and had actually ceased to be a considered a human ancestor for at least a decade before that because it was too anomalous compared to all the other known fossils.

Nebraska Man: unlike Piltdown Man, this wasn't an influential fossil even during it's brief heyday, which ended some 75 years ago.

Australopithecus robustus: was not 'disqualified' by the discovery of Homo habilis, because it had never been 'qualified' in the first place. This was never considered to be anything but a robust australopithecine, even by its discoverer Robert Broom.

Gigantopithecus: again, it's misleading to describe this as 'dropped by most anthropologists', because it had never been adopted by them in the first place. Weidenreich was probably the only anthropologist who ever thought Gigantopithecus had anything to do with human evolution.

Zinjanthropus: it was indeed displaced by Homo habilis within a few years of its discovery, but even before then it had never been considered to be a human ancestor by anyone but Louis Leakey.

Ramapithecus: Fix's description of Ramapithecus's status is accurate. Rama was a serious contender for human ancestry for about 15 years, from the early 60's to the late 70's, before further finds showed it to be related to orang-utans. Score one for Fix!

Lothagam Man: the Lothagam fossil is a small jaw fragment with one tooth, about 5 to 6 million years old. Although possibly hominid, it is too small to reliably identify what species or even genus it belongs to. It has never been 'disqualified' as a human ancestor because it never qualified as one in the first place.

Let's now see how Fix did with the items on his list that are still potentially ancestral to humans:

Neanderthal 1856 Abandoned as ancestral species by many anthropologists in 1960s and 1970s
Homo erectus (Java man, Peking man) 1891 Ancestral status made highly questionable by discovery of skull 1470 in 1972
Australopithecus africanus 1924 Disqualified by the discovery of skull 1470 in 1972
Homo habilis 1960 Ancestral status is still indeterminate
Australopithecus afarensis
1979 Beset by many problems and mounting controversy in early 1980s

Neanderthal Man: it's true that many, probably most, scientists now consider Neandertals to be an extinct offshoot of humanity. However, an extinct group of non-ancestral humans seems better evidence for evolution than against it; how did such a group of people appear if they and humans did not both evolve from a common ancestor?

Homo erectus: has not been displaced by the discovery of ER 1470. Such claims are based on early reports of 1470 which exaggerated its modernness, and on an early erroneous dating of ER 1470 which had been corrected by the late 1970's.

Australopithecus africanus: supposedly disqualified by the discovery of ER 1470 in 1972. As with Homo erectus, this 'disqualification' is based on the early erroneous dating of ER 1470 which had been abandoned about 5 years before Fix wrote his book.

Homo habilis: 'ancestral status is still indeterminate'. It's difficult to determine any relationship between fossils with absolute certainty. But the habiline fossils are in the right time and place, and with the right characteristics, to be very good candidates for human ancestry.

Australopithecus afarensis, "Lucy": 'beset by many problems and mounting controversy'. Well, it's been true that there's been plenty of dispute about the exact mode of Lucy's locomotion: was she completely bipedal, or partly arboreal? However, all participants in the debate accept that Lucy spent a considerable amount of time on the ground, and that she was predominantly or completely bipedal when on the ground. None of these positions is incompatible with her being ancestral to humans, and most scientists still consider afarensis a good candidate as a human ancestor.


In summary, Fix's criticisms of the fossil record have no validity. Although creationists occasionally like to promote Fix as someone who is skeptical of evolution from a non-creationist viewpoint, his criticisms appear to have been mostly borrowed from creationist literature. Fix's book has, in fact, sunk into almost total (and well-deserved) oblivion. A web search for it found no references to it except for the occasional creationist web page.

Paul Z. Myers, in his excellent Pharyngula blog, has some more information about Bone Peddlers. The one-line summary: William Fix is a total crackpot.

This page is part of the Fossil Hominids FAQ at the Archive.

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