Fossil Hominids: Response to In the Beginning

This document is a response to the claims made by Walter Brown about the human fossil record in chapter 26 of his book In the Beginning (1996, 6th edition). I have rearranged Brown's text so that his claims and the associated references are together. Indented text is from Brown's book unless labelled otherwise.

If and when Brown responds to this article, I will include a link to his response.

26. Ape-Men?

Stories claiming that fossils of primitive, apelike men have been found are overstated.(a)

a. Lord Zuckerman candidly stated that if special creation did not occur, then no scientist could deny that man evolved from some apelike creature, "without leaving any fossil traces of the steps of the transformation." Solly Zuckerman (former Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government and Honorary Secretary of the Zoological Society of London), Beyond the Ivory Tower (New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1970), p. 64.

Zuckerman apparently did not consider many of his colleagues scientists, since most of them disagreed with him.
* It is now universally acknowledged that Piltdown man was a hoax, and yet, it was in textbooks for more than forty years.
True. Of course, just because one fossil was a hoax does nothing to discredit the many other legitimate fossils that have been found.
* The only evidence for Nebraska man turned out to be a pig's tooth. (See Figure 10.)

Figure 10: Nebraska Man. Artist's drawings, even those based on speculation, have a powerful influence on the public. Nebraska man (and presumably Nebraska woman) were mistakenly based on one tooth of an extinct pig. And yet, The Illustrated London News published, in 1922, this picture showing our supposed ancestors. Of course no fossil evidence could support the image conveyed here of a naked man carrying a club.

G. Elliot Smith, Illustrated London News, 24 June 1992, p. 944

Nebraska Man was a mistake, but its effect on the study of human evolution was negligible. Almost all scientists were skeptical about it, and waited for further evidence. The caption underneath the drawing made every effort to emphasize the speculative nature of the drawing, pointing out that nothing was known about the form of Nebraska Man, and that the drawing was imaginative (and based on the Java Man fossil, rather than the Nebraska tooth). See the Nebraska Man page for more information.
* Eugene Dubois conceded forty years after he discovered Java "man" that it was just a large gibbon. Dubois also admitted that he had withheld parts of four other thigh bones of apes, found in the same area, which supported that conclusion.(e)

e. Java man consisted of two bones that were found 39 feet apart: a skull cap and femur (thighbone). Rudolf Virchow, the famous German pathologist, believed the femur was from a gibbon. By concurring, Dubois supported his own non-Darwinian theory of evolution - a theory too complex and strange to discuss here. [See Stephen Jay Gould, "Men of the Thirty-third Division," Natural History, April 1990, pp. 12-22.]

One wonders whether Brown actually read Gould's article, the whole point of which was to show that the frequent claim that Dubois had dismissed Java Man as "just a large gibbon" is just a myth. Dubois never wavered from his view that Java Man was a human ancestor.

Dubois did not "withhold" the other thigh bones; they were only discovered in his huge collection of Javan fossils in the early 1930's. (Aiello and Dean, 1990; Boule and Vallois, 1957)

Whether or not the bones were from a large-brained gibbon, a hominid, another animal, or two completely different animals is not important. This episode shows how easily the person who knew the bones best could shift his interpretation from Java "man" to Java "gibbon." Even after other fragmentary finds were made at other sites in Java, the total evidence was so fragmentary that a wide range of interpretations was possible.
Dubois' interpretation actually changed very little. The original skullcap is hardly "fragmentary", it consists of over half of the braincase, and is large enough that if it was an ape or human it should be easily identifiable as such. One of the later finds (Pithecanthropus II, 1937) was even more complete, being an almost complete braincase.
- "Pithecanthropus [Java man] was not a man, but a gigantic genus allied to the Gibbons . . . ." Eugene Dubois, "On the Fossil Human Skulls Recently Discovered in Java and Pithecanthropus Erectus," Man, Vol. 37, January 1937, p. 4.
The quoted sentence continues: "... however superior to the gibbons on account of its exceedingly large brain volume and distinguished at the same time by its faculty of assuming an erect attitude and gait". These do not sound like the words of someone trying to disown Pithecanthropus as a human ancestor. Dubois' efforts to stress the ape-like features of Java Man seems to have been an attempt to differentiate Java Man from the Peking Man remains and to prove that Java Man was the ancestor of humans.
"Thus the evidence given by those five new thigh bones of the morphological and functional distinctness of Pithecanthropus erectus furnishes proof, at the same time, of its close affinity with the gibbon group of anthropoid apes." Ibid., p. 5.

"The success of Darwinism was accompanied by a decline in scientific integrity. . . . A striking example, which has only recently come to light, is the alteration of the Piltdown skull so that it could be used as evidence for the descent of man from the apes; but even before this a similar instance of tinkering with evidence was finally revealed by the discoverer of Pithecanthropus [Java man], who admitted, many years after his sensational report, that he had found in the same deposits bones that are definitely human." W. R. Thompson, "Introduction to The Origin of Species," p. 17.

W. R. Thompson refers to Dubois' discovery in November 1890 of part of a lower jaw containing the stump of a tooth. This was found at Kedung-Brubus (also spelled Kedeong Broboes), 25 miles east of his find of Java "man" at Trinil, eleven months later. Dubois was confident that it was a human jaw of Tertiary age. [See Herbert Wendt, In Search of Adam (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishers, 1955), pp. 293-294.] Dubois' claims of finding "the missing link" would probably have been ignored if he had mentioned this jaw. Similar, but less convincing, charges have been made against Dubois concerning his finding of obvious human skulls at Wadjak, 60 miles from Trinil.

The Kedung Brubus jaw fragment is a small triangular fragment measuring about 35 mm on each side. It is thus not a very informative fossil, but according to Coon's The Origin of Races (1962), "As far as we can tell, it could easily have been part of a Pithecanthropus jaw." According to Boule and Vallois, Dubois regarded it as "almost perfectly human", but there was one anatomical feature (a large digastric fossa situated entirely on the lower margin of the bone) which he said would be incompatible with speech. The same characteristic is found on a partial Pithecanthropus jaw bone from Sangiran, so there appear to be good grounds for considering the Kedung Brubus fragment to belong to Homo erectus rather than Homo sapiens.

Dubois had found two modern human skulls at Wadjak. However the associated fauna showed them to be far more recent than the Java Man fossil, and they are thus irrelevant to it.

* The skulls of Peking man are considered by many experts to be the remains of apes that were systematically decapitated and exploited for food by true man.(f)

f. Patrick O'Connell, Science of Today and the Problems of Genesis, 2nd edition (Roseburg, Oregon: self-published, 1969), pp. 108-138.

o Bowden, pp. 90-137.

o Marcellin Boule and Henri V. Vallois, Fossil Men (New York: The Dryden Press, 1957), p. 145.

False. I am unaware of any modern expert who believes this (Bowden and O'Connell are certainly not experts). Boule and Vallois did believe that Peking Man had been preyed upon by true humans, but Boule's opinion dates from before World War II. Oakley, in his 1957 introduction to Boule and Vallois' book, states that "the evidence was eventually seen to be overwhelmingly on the side of the simpler explanation" [that no evidence exists for humans in the Peking Man deposit]. Thus, even by 1957, the explanation that Brown claims is held by many modern experts had been overwhelmingly rejected. (See the Peking Man page for more information.)

And no scientist, not even Boule, has ever claimed that the Peking Man fossils were from apes. The claim would be implausible in the extreme, since the skull capacity is far too large for any ape. Boule and Vallois' book makes it quite clear that Peking Man was intermediate between apes and humans. Perhaps Brown could document on which page of Boule and Vallois' book they made the claim the Peking Man was an ape? And how would that be consistent with their opinion that:

"Morphologically,there is not the slightest doubt. Sinanthropus confirms and completes the proof that these are creatures with physical characters intermediate between the group of Anthropoid Apes and the group of Hominians." (Boule and Vallois, 1957)
Brown continues:
The classification Homo erectus is considered by most experts to be a category that should never have been created.(g)

g. "[The reanalysis of Narmada Man] puts another nail in the coffin of Homo erectus as a viable taxon." Kenneth A. R. Kennedy, as quoted in "Homo Erectus Never Existed?", Geotimes, October 1992, p. 11.

This reference provides no evidence that any scientist, at any time, has ever claimed that Homo erectus is "a category that should never been created".

According to the Geotimes article, Kennedy does believe that Homo erectus is an invalid taxon, but this is based on theoretical reasons to do with his support of multiregionalism. He does not dispute that Homo erectus is outside the morphological range of Homo sapiens, nor that Homo erectus evolved into Homo sapiens. Nor does he believe that Homo erectus should never have been created (personal communication).

* The first confirmed limb bones of Homo habilis have recently been discovered. They show that this animal clearly had apelike proportions(h) and should never have been classified as manlike (Homo).

h. Donald C. Johanson et al., "New Partial Skeleton of Homo Habilis from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania," Nature, Vol. 327, 21 May 1987, pp. 205-209.

The fossil OH 62 does have very ape-like proportions. However that does not change the fact that many Homo habilis fossils have skulls that are extremely large and modern by ape standards. And, since most scientists now suspect that the fossils attributed to Homo habilis actually belong to more than one species, OH 62's body proportions do not necessarily apply to all habilis fossils.
* The Australopithecines, which were made famous by Louis and Mary Leakey, are quite distinct from humans. Several detailed computer studies of the Australopithecines have shown that their bodily proportions were not intermediate between man and living apes.(i)

i. Dr. Charles Oxnard and Sir Solly Zuckerman, referred to below, were leaders in the development of a powerful multivariate analysis procedure. This computerized technique simultaneously performs millions of comparisons on hundreds of corresponding dimensions of the bones of living apes, humans, and the Australopithecines. Their verdict, that the Australopithecines are not intermediate between man and living apes, is quite different from the more subjective and less analytical visual techniques of most anthropologists.

[Many more quotes by Oxnard and Zuckerman deleted]

Many other scientists have used the same techniques, and other techniques, and reached different conclusions (see Howell et al., 1978). Does Brown have any particular reason to believe Zuckerman and Oxnard are right and everyone else is wrong, or is it just that their conclusions best suit what he wants to believe?
o "This Australopithecine material suggests a form of locomotion that was not entirely upright nor bipedal. The Rudolf Australopithecines, in fact, may have been close to the `knuckle-walker' condition, not unlike the extant African apes." Richard E. F. Leakey, "Further Evidence of Lower Pleistocene Hominids from East Rudolf, North Kenya," Nature, Vol. 231, 28 May 1971, p. 245.
This was a preliminary and tentative suggestion about some robust australopithecine fossils, made soon after they were discovered. Within two years, Leakey had written "Although there is a growing body of evidence in support of a bipedal model [for Australopithecus], ...". (Nature, 242:172, 1973) and since then I doubt he has ever suggested they were knuckle-walkers, although he has often referred to them being bipedal. This extremely dated quote totally misrepresents the current thinking of Richard Leakey and everyone else.
Another study of their inner ear bones, that were used to maintain balance, showed a striking similarity with those of chimpanzees and gorillas, but great differences with those of humans. One Australopithecine fossil - a 3 1/2-foot-tall, long-armed, 60-pound adult called Lucy - was initially presented as evidence that all Australopithecines walked upright in a human manner.
This sentence is rather misleading. It could easily be taken by the unwary to mean that australopithecines were not bipedal and did not walk upright, but few if any scientists believe that. Many scientists do agree that Lucy's gait, although bipedal, was not identical to ours, and that she was also partly arboreal. That does not mean she was not transitional; there is no reason to believe that bipedality when it first arose had to be identical to modern human bipedality, especially in a creature that was still partly arboreal.
However, studies of Lucy's entire anatomy, not just a knee joint, now show that this is very unlikely.(j)

j. Fred Spoor et al., "Implications of Early Hominid Labyrinthine Morphology for Evolution of Human Bipedal Locomotion," Nature, Vol. 369, 23 June 1994, pp. 645-648.

This paper does not even mention Lucy (not surprisingly, since the bony labyrinth in her ear is not even preserved). It does show that some Homo erectus skulls had inner ear canals like those of modern humans. One of these skulls is Sangiran 2, also known as Pithecanthropus II. This skull is virtually identical to the Java Man skullcap, except for being smaller (815 cc) and more complete. The Java Man skullcap is 940 cc, and is claimed by Brown to be a giant gibbon. How would Brown explain this contradiction?
She probably swung from the trees.(k)

k. William L. Jungers, "Lucy's Limbs: Skeletal Allometry and Locomotion in Australopithecus Afarensis," Nature, Vol. 297, 24 June 1982, pp. 676-678.

Junger's article says nothing about swinging from the trees; it does say that there are "compelling indicators" of bipedality in Lucy.
o Jeremy Cherfas, "Trees Have Made Man Upright", New Scientist, Vol. 93, 20 January 1983, pp. 172-178.

o Jack T. Stern, Jr. and Randall L. Susman, "The Locomotor Anatomy of Australopithecus Afarensis," American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Vol. 60, March 1983, pp. 279-317.

Stern and Susman do claim Lucy was arboreal. They also claim she was bipedal, although probably not walking identically to humans. The differences may have been bioenergetic, or a lesser amount of extension in the knee or hip. These differences are certainly not dramatic enough to preclude the idea that Lucy was evolving towards full-time human bipedality, and in fact Stern and Susman consider her to be an excellent example of a transitional form.
The Australopithecines are probably an extinct ape.(l)

l. "There is indeed, no question which the Australopithecine skull resembles when placed side by side with specimens of human and living ape skulls. It is the ape - so much so that only detailed and close scrutiny can reveal any differences between them." Solly Zuckerman, "Correlation of Change in the Evolution of Higher Primates," Evolution as a Process, editors Julian Huxley, A. C. Hardy, and E. B. Ford (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1954), p. 307.

Hardly the most up-to-date reference available. The reason creationists have to use such old quotes is that Zuckerman seems to have been almost the only major scientist to dispute that australopithecines were hominids.
"We can safely conclude from the fossil hominoid material now available that in the history of the globe there have been many more species of great ape than just the three which exist today." Ibid., pp. 348-349.
True. So what? The fact that fossil apes exist does nothing to show that australopithecines are apes.
* For about 100 years the world was led to believe that Neanderthal man was stooped and apelike. Recent studies show that this erroneous belief was based upon some Neanderthals who were crippled with bone diseases such as arthritis and rickets.(m)

m. Francis Ivanhoe, "Was Virchow Right About Neanderthal?", Nature, Vol. 227, 8 August 1970, pp. 577-578.

Ivanhoe's claim that Neandertals suffered from rickets has been totally rejected by scientists.
- William L. Straus, Jr. and A. J. E. Cave, "Pathology and the Posture of Neanderthal Man," The Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 1957, pp. 348-363.
Straus and Cave did show that the reconstruction of Neandertals with a stooped posture was the result of a faulty reconstruction of a specimen with arthritis (not rickets). Their results applied only to the posture of Neandertals. They did not claim that this accounted for all the differences between us and Neandertals; in fact they explicitly rejected this idea in the same paper cited by Brown:
"This is not to deny that his limbs, as well as his skull, exhibit distinctive features - features which collectively distinguish him from all groups of modern men." (Straus and Cave, 1957)
Brown continues:
- Bruce M. Rothschild and Pierre L. Thillaud, "Oldest Bone Disease," Nature, Vol. 349, 24 January 1991, p. 288.
This paper gives evidence that some Neandertals had a bone disease known as CPPD. However there is no reason to believe that this disease had anything to do with anatomical differences between modern humans and Neandertals (Rothschild and Thillaud certainly make no such claim), and every reason to believe that it did not. Only a minority of the Neandertals studied had CPPD, and the symptoms appear to be limited to the shoulders, wrists and ankles. And, obviously, the disease is known from modern humans who, I would be willing to bet, show no signs of Neandertalism.
Neanderthal man, Heidelberg man, and Cro-Magnon man were completely human.
Neandertals were humans; just not modern humans. Whether one chooses to classify them as a subspecies of Homo sapiens, or a different species of Homo, there is a consistent suite of distinctive features which differentiate Neandertals from modern humans.

Heidelberg Man is a fossil jaw with modern teeth set in a massive chinless jaw. If a human with a jaw like this cannot be accepted as being a primitive human, one wonders what could.

The Cro-Magnons were indeed completely human. Who has ever claimed otherwise?

Artists' depictions of them, especially of their fleshy portions, are often quite imaginative and are not supported by the evidence.(n)

n. Boyce Rensberger, "Facing the Past," Science 81, October 1981, p. 49.

Of course. Artists are honest about admitting that soft body parts are not known from the fossil record, and that they have to make an educated guess at such features. Whatever the merits of artistic depictions, they are irrelevant to the conclusions of scientists, since scientific analyses do not depend on them at all.

Brown has made no attempt to address the strongest evidence for human evolution. What does he have to say about WT 15000, ER 3733, ER 1470, and OH 7? Are they apes or humans?

The skeleton of the Turkana Boy, WT 15000, is very humanlike, but its skull is very similar in size and shape to the Java Man skullcap which Brown claims is an ape. How does Brown explain this?

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

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