Chris Stringer responds to Jack Cuozzo

Chris Stringer is a Merit Researcher on hominids in the Department of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, London.

Jack Cuozzo is the author of Buried Alive: the startling truth about Neanderthal Man.

See also:

Colin Groves' review of Buried Alive

Dr. Cuozzo's Swanscombe web page

Creationist Jack Cuozzo, in a debate with anthropologist Alan Man in April, claimed to have discovered two new human fossils at the site of the Swanscombe Man fossil in England. The claimed fossils were forwarded to Dr. Chris Stringer of London's Natural History Museum for examination, who wrote this response.

Dr Cuozzo and Swanscombe

In April 2001 I became aware, through third parties, that the creationist Dr J. Cuozzo (author of the book "Buried Alive") was claiming to have discovered two additional fossil human bones at Swanscombe. I eventually managed to track down the two "bones" at The British Museum in Bloomsbury, where they had been forwarded by the British Embassy in Washington, and they were sent here. On inspection it was evident that these specimens had neither the texture nor appearance of genuine fossil bone from Swanscombe, and instead closely resembled chert and flint components in the gravels. However, the "mastoid" did also resemble the genuine article in shape.

To investigate this further, on June 7th 2001 they were subjected to non-destructive Energy Dispersive X-ray (EDX) Spectrometry in the Mineralogy Department, in comparison with gravel and genuine fossil bone from Swanscombe. Sample 1 is claimed by Cuozzo to be a left mastoid process from the Swanscombe skull, and sample 2 is supposedly the pubic bone from the skeleton. For comparison, sample 3 is a piece of siliceous gravel from the Middle Gravels at Swanscombe, which contained the human skull, and sample 4 is a Bison phalanx from the Middle Gravels. Unfortunately, the actual fossil human bones from Swanscombe were too large to enter the EDX analytical chamber, but their preservation is consistent with the other Swanscombe fossils and also unlike Dr Cuozzo's specimens. Representative results of the analyses are attached as jpeg files. As can be seen, Dr Cuozzo's finds display the characteristic spectra of siliceous rocks (note the Silicon and Oxygen peaks), and do not display the peaks for Calcium and Phosphorus found in the genuine Swanscombe fossil bone.

Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectrometry Test Results
Sample 1: claimed by Cuozzo to be left mastoid process of the Swanscombe skull Sample 1 EDX results
Sample 2: claimed by Cuozzo to be human pubic bone Sample 2 EDX results
Sample 3: a piece of siliceous gravel from the Middle Gravels at Swanscombe Sample 3 EDX results
Sample 4: Bison phalanx from the Middle Gravels Sample 4 EDX results

Once it was established that these were pieces of siliceous gravel, they were thin-sectioned, further demonstrating that their internal structure is entirely mineralogical, lacking the microstructure of bone. I attach images of the Swanscombe "bones" and sections. They are figure 005 "mastoid", 004 sectioned "mastoid", 003 "pubis", 002 sectioned "pubis". For comparison I attach three figures showing the actual Swanscombe left parietal, which Dr Cuozzo's "mastoid" supposedly fits (Dscn501,502,504). Colour, texture and preservation can be seen to be completely different, as would be expected from the EDX results. To summarise, Dr Cuozzo's Swanscombe "bones" can be shown by observation, analysis and sectioning to be pieces of siliceous gravel, and this should have been apparent to him if he had conducted even a cursory comparison of these pieces with actual mammalian fossils from the site.

I have returned this material to Dr Cuozzo, via Mr Paul Humber, but I will retain the thin sections in case there are accusations that I have falsified the data. I have also, via Mr Humber, extended an invitation for Dr Cuozzo to make his own comparisons with genuine Swanscombe fossil material in our collections. I would like to thank my colleagues in Mineralogy, John Spratt, Terry Greenwood, Terry Williams and Tony Wighton, for their assistance with these analyses, and Professor Christopher Dean and the NHM Photographic Unit for photographic work.

Dr Cuozzo and Broken Hill

I have also been investigating Dr Cuozzo's charges about "evolutionists" falsifying the Broken Hill skull, and there appear to be no scientific bases for them either. From a published radiograph taken in 1958, he claims that someone at The Natural History Museum added a fake anterior clinoid process to the fossil. However, the anterior clinoid process was described as present by Pycraft in the 1928 monograph. Its presence is reflected on the Elliott Smith endocast made at that time and this endocast appears to show the same anterior endocranial morphology as is preserved on endocasts made in the last 25 years. Moreover, it is present in radiographs taken prior to 1958, and after 1958. The cranium has also been CT-scanned in detail. All the relevant materials are curated here and have been available for inspection by researchers, including Dr Cuozzo. Therefore there seems to be no evidence that anyone falsified the presence or absence of this feature (in addition, does Dr Cuozzo have any evidence that anyone ever tried to exploit the supposed falsification?). Its absence on a radiograph published in 1958 must therefore be apparent, not real (i.e. it does not show on the radiograph, perhaps because of the exposure needed to penetrate the heavily mineralised bone or the fact that the published radiograph is a print, not an original).

Regarding "missing bone" from the left mastoid process, apparently also considered suspicious by Dr Cuozzo, this area has been described, photographed, radiographed, scanned and replicated on various occasions since the discovery in 1921 (see, for example, Montgomery, P.Q., Williams, H.O.L., Reading, N. and Stringer, C.B. 1994. An Assessment of the Temporal Bone Lesions of the Broken Hill Cranium. Journal of Archaeological Science, 21:331-337). Again, all of the relevant material is available for scientific examination here. I wish Dr Cuozzo had checked properly before publishing unwarranted allegations about this Museum and its staff, and I hope he will correct them now that more accurate information is available.

Dr Cuozzo and Engis

Dr Cuozzo has also accused the geologist Charles Lyell of falsifying a measurement taken on the Engis Neanderthal child's skull, and an unidentified artist of adding browridges to a picture of the same skull. However, there are two skulls from Engis - an adult modern human, and a Neanderthal child. In both cases, the relevant illustrations clearly show the adult skull (Lyell's published measurement exactly matches its length), not the Neanderthal child, so there has been no falsification of data, nor any addition of browridges, except in the mind of Dr Cuozzo.

Further evidence?

The following paragraph is in response to new material placed on Cuozzo's web page on November 16, 2001.

I got involved in the saga of Dr Cuozzo and Swanscombe because he claimed to have found more of the skeleton of the Pleistocene Swanscombe human, which is curated here: to quote from his website: "Dr. Jack Cuozzo, author of the book "Buried Alive - The Startling Truth about Neanderthal Man" discovered 2 additional pieces of the Swanscombe woman in September 2000". However, as the preservation of his material is demonstrably completely different from those of Pleistocene fossils from Swanscombe, including the human cranial bones, I see no reason to alter my view that he has not found more parts of the Swanscombe human. Moreover, my colleague Dr John Whittaker, one of the world's leading micropalaeontologists, informs me that the fossil within the "mastoid" gravel section is definitely a foraminifer, showing the proloculus, spire, septa and chambers, not (as claimed by Dr Cuozzo) a larva of Trichinella spiralis. However, he could not make a more precise identification without studying the original specimen. It is, of course, quite impossible for a human bone, however fossilised, to incorporate a fossil foram. I have invited Dr Cuozzo to come to London and make his own comparisons. Otherwise I am more than happy to leave him to continue his own research into the constitution of the Swanscombe gravels.

Chris Stringer, Dept. of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, London

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