Thursday, January 11, 2018

"They Are Digging in the Wrong Place"

Bodie Hodge has a post on the AiG website that is nothing short of astounding.  AiG is, once again, moving the goalposts.  And who is Bodie Hodge?  He is, according to the site: "A speaker, writer, and researcher for Answers in Genesis, Bodie Hodge has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale."  Hodge writes:
Each year there are many headlines, books, technical articles, and videos about another supposed missing link—a supposed link between a land mammal and whale, a dinosaur and bird, an ape and human, and so forth. Usually, these are quite easy to refute by anatomical features.

For example, alleged missing links turn out to be anything but—for example, either ape, human, or a fake (e.g., Piltdown man) or dinosaur, bird, or a fake (e.g., Archaeoraptor).

Nevertheless, these alleged missing links rarely make creationists cringe. I think it frustrates some of the evolutionists because they think they have found some sort of knock-out evidence that they interpret as support for evolution. But creationists rarely bat an eye.

Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret as to why creationists rarely take notice of these alleged missing links. It is because the evolutionists are digging in the wrong place—just like the bad guys in Indiana Jones. When you don’t have the correct information, you can miss the mark significantly.
So evolutionists are just like "the bad guys" in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Did you catch that?  A casual trip through the fossil record indicates that there are, in fact, many, many transitional forms present.  We now have very detailed sequences from Devonian crossopterygians to early tetrapods, from land mammals to whales, from maniraptoran dinosaurs to birds and, of course, from late Miocene/early Pliocene apes to humans.

But this isn't even the central focus of his post. First, he lists the conventional geological stratigraphy.  He bungles this early on.  He writes: "In a general sense, evolutionists look for alleged dinosaur-to-bird missing links in the Cretaceous and Paleocene (bolded)."  Wrong.  The dinosaur-to-bird sequence dates to the late Jurassic.  Furthermore, the presence of feathers on non-avian dinosaurs suggests that feathers evolved even before the late Jurassic.  By the early Cretaceous, birds were numerous.  The transition had long since ended by the Palaeocene.  Had he done any study of the transition from dinosaurs to birds, he would have known this.

He then writes:
But here is the problem. The rock layers from Cambrian to Miocene—at least mapped in the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4)—were from the Flood.2 Miocene and Eocene rock is intricately part of the makeup of the mountains of Ararat, as is Cretaceous and Triassic (many times inverted, lying above the Miocene and Eocene). Since that time, the upper strata are post-Flood strata—such as Ice Age layers and recent volcanic flows. I understand creationists debate about tertiary sediment (Paleocene through Miocene) and encourage you study this further.
He gives absolutely no justification for this viewpoint. No evidence is presented indicating why pre-Pliocene sediments are flood and Pliocene sediments on up are not.  There is no event to mark this transition, no sedimentary layer that is distinctive.

Nothing. He simply says that it is so, therefore it is. It gets worse:
So when evolutionists say they found a transitional form between an ape and a human in Pliocene rock, creationists hardly flinch. Evolutionists are looking at the rock strata and the age of the earth incorrectly because humans were around long before that rock was ever laid down! Furthermore, humans existed when the Cambrian rock was laid down during the Flood. To go one more step, mankind had dominated the earth for over 1,600 years before the Cambrian rock was laid down!

When someone says that they found a transitional form between a dinosaur and a bird in the Paleocene, again, creationists hardly think twice. Both specimens died the same year in the same Flood and are not related. This is why finding feathers in the rock layers “before the dinosaurs” is not a problem for creationists.4 Nor is it a problem when we find theropod dinosaurs (which supposedly evolved into birds in the evolutionary story) that had eaten birds in lower Cretaceous rock.5

Birds were made on Day Five, which is a day before the dinosaurs; land animals, like dinosaurs, were made on Day Six. Having both buried in Flood sediment isn’t a big deal.
So many questions...

  • If humans were around before the rocks were laid down, how is it that we find no humans at the base of the geological/flood column?  In fact, why aren't human remains found throughout the column, if they predate the Cambrian?
  • How is it that all of the fossil species that are supposed to be in flood deposits are perfectly sorted, even to the point of brachipods being sorted by crinulation number and trilobites being sorted  by number of compound eye segments?  What about the detailed fossil sequences mentioned above? 
  • if humans had ship-building capacity during the time of Noah and existed in towns and settlements, why is there no evidence of this at the bottom of the geological column?
  • If humans did, in fact, predate the Cambrian, why do we find a detailed, clear sequence from prehuman hominoids through human precursors to archaic and them modern humans beginning in the Pliocene?  
  • If the sediments from the Miocene back to the Precambrian reflect flood deposits, why do we find the largest land mammals, dinosaurs three quarters of the way up the column, when they should have sunk to the bottom?  
  • If the sediments from the Miocene back to the Precambrian reflect flood deposits, why do we find features throughout the geological record that could only have happened on the surface, such as rain drops, footprints, hatched dinosaur eggs, cave systems, sand dunes, burned forests, swamps, etc. 
So why aren't any of these things problems for the creationists?
Biblical creationists presuppose the Bible’s truth and subsequently the true history of the earth—including Noah’s Flood. Evolutionists have presuppositions too, albeit, false ones, but presuppositions nonetheless. This is why when evolutionists look at Flood rock they unwittingly believe that the rock was actually laid down slowly and gradually over long ages. I suggest they have been indoctrinated to believe such stories as gradual rock accumulation over millions of years which has never been observed or repeated. Thus, the concept of millions of years is not in the realm of science but interpretation.
The reason that "evolutionists" do this is because every bit of the palaeontological and geological evidence points to a long depositional history with evolutionary diversity.  It is not a matter of indoctrination.  It is a matter of going where the evidence leads.  One might reasonably argue that if you put on young earth creationist blinders, you do not see the vast stretches of time and the changes that the earth has gone through in its long history, but, instead, a flat earth. 

It is common to find nonsense on the AiG site, but this rises to a new level of inanity. This post is terribly written, incorrect, pompous and insulting.  The writer provides no evidence for the position he takes, insults the hard work of scientists who have spent decades piecing together the geological and fossil records, and betrays complete ignorance of basic geology and palaentology.  It is hard to be charitable to Mr. Hodge, who plainly knows nothing of which he writes and, as a result, produces pure drivel. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

New Ancestral Native American Population Discovered: The YEC Interpretation

On the heels of the discovery of the new ancestral Native American DNA, several young earth creationists have claimed that the discovery supports the global flood model and a young earth.

Uh huh.

From the Baptist Press:
After scientists extracted the DNA, they dated it to approximately 11,500 years ago, according to common evolutionary dating methods, and discovered commonalties between the harvested genome and the DNA of modern Native Americans. Researchers also found the ancient infant girl had ancestors in East Asia some 35,000 years ago according to evolutionary dating methods.

The finding marks the second oldest human genome ever discovered in North America, The New York Times reported.

Nathaniel Jeanson, a Harvard-trained research biologist with Answers in Genesis (AiG), told Baptist Press the dating of the Alaska DNA seems to be inaccurate. But other details of the find, he noted, corroborate the account in Genesis 11 of mass human migration following attempted construction of the Tower of Babel.

The Nature study, Jeanson said, is “more evidence for people in the Americas from Asia -- East Asia, Central Asia" and "is consistent with Scripture.”
It is also consistent with every single model of population movement into the New World since the 1970s. It may be the oldest DNA found in the New World, but it still supports all of the previous models.  And, on what basis is the dating wrong?  Jeanson is willing to take everything else at face value, including the idea that this represents the first peopling of the New World.

How would he know this if the dates are wrong?  Again, from the article:
Kurt Wise, a Southern Baptist and Harvard-trained paleontologist, told BP in written comments the 11,500 "radiocarbon years" cited by Nature "amount to many fewer true (chronological) years (probably closer to 4,000-4,100 years)."

"If one considers the ages" given by Nature “in relative terms, the new findings are consistent with a dispersion of humans from Babel,” said Wise, professor of natural history at Truett McConnell University, “people making it to western-most Europe, southern-most Africa, and eastern-most Asia first, then coming through the Bering Strait from western Asia into what is now Alaska ... and spreading from there into northern, central, and southern South America.

“So, these remains,” Wise said, "are most probably of a population of people spreading out from Babel” -- a reality he termed “rather exciting!”
How does one take the dates ”in relative terms?”  That is why they call it absolute dating.  Relative dating is when something is older than something else based on its position in the geological column.   Additionally, the reason that we can identify it as a population that is ancestral to later Native Americans (some of them, anyway) is because of the genetic similarities to very-eastern Siberian and north Chinese populations that existed some 30 to 40 thousand years ago in those areas and who's descendants migrated over the Bering Strait.

If the flood really had happened sometime between 2400 and 2500 B.C., there would be no such genetic diversity.  Everyone would have very similar DNA and it would be traceable to some area around northeastern Turkey/southern Armenia/Black Sea.  Yet those people are very distinct, genetically from east Asians and Europeans. 

In short, this DNA strand constitutes no evidence, whatsoever, for a migration of people after the Noachian Flood.   

Friday, January 05, 2018

New Ancestral Native American Population Discovered

Science Alerts is running a story about genetic research done to reveal ancestral populations.  Peter Dockrill writes:
Sunrise girl-child ("Xach'itee'aanenh T'eede Gaay") lived some 11,500 years ago in what is now called Alaska, and her ancient DNA reveals not only the origins of Native American society, but reminds the world of a whole population of people forgotten by history millennia ago.

"We didn't know this population existed," says anthropologist Ben Potter from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this newly revealed people to our understanding of how ancient populations came to inhabit the Americas."
When I was in graduate school, the common understanding was that Meadowcroft Rockshelter was occupied as early as 23ky. Although this date was disputed, on the basis of presumed groundwater contamination, a paper by Paul Goldberg and Trina Arpin, from 1999, seems to confirm the early date. Meadowcroft is in Pennsylvania and likely was within 50 miles of the maximum edge of the Cordilleran Ice sheet.

Still, this is a neat find.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Ken Ham's Comments on SES National Conference on Christian Apologetics Called "Unhelpful"

Ken Ham attacking other Christians?  Gee, who knew?  An article that is running in the Christian Post recounts an exchange between Ham and Southern Evangelical Seminary president emeritus Richard Howe.  The irony is that they are both young-earth creationists.  Michael Gryboski writes:
Ham was part of a dialogue event at the SES National Conference on Christian Apologetics in October, titled "God's Word or Man's Word: From Where Must Apologetics Begin?" He insisted that unwavering belief in God's Word must be the beginning of any apologetics discussion and criticized SES Professor Emeritus Richard Howe for arguing that a defense of the faith can begin with a discussion of natural law.

Ham said in his assessment of the event that Howe "seemed rather weak in his convictions and not very knowledgeable of the biblical and scientific arguments in favor of young-earth creation. And he is very opposed to the way that I, and AiG in general, defend Genesis."

SES President Richard Land, calling the young-earth creationist's comments "unfair and unhelpful," asserted in a statement, "One will be hard pressed to find a more conservative and steadfast seminary dedicated to teaching and defending the foundational doctrines of the historic Christian faith. SES is one of the last bastions of a robust view of biblical inerrancy."
At issue, apparently, is the way in which the Bible is used to determine truth. The suppositional, or classical model supporters argue that one must “marshall” evidence for a position on whether or not the Bible is true. The presuppositional model supporters argue that the Bible is de facto true and that this perspective precedes any understanding or reasoning about the nature of reality. Ham takes the latter position.  Gryboski further writes:
“Compromise positions on Genesis are permeating our seminaries and other Christian institutions. Academics have come up with all sorts of fanciful ways to twist the Scriptures to try to fit in millions of years,” wrote Ham.

Land clarified that all SES trustees, faculty, and staff, which include both young-earth and old-earth creationists, believe the Bible is infallible and inerrant. The issue of the age of the earth — which was not the focus of the conference dialogue — is a matter of interpretation, he noted.

Despite Ham's letter, Land said SES is “committed to furthering this dialogue,” so much so that they have extended an invitation to Ham to participate in a formal debate at next year's conference.
There is a large, unspoken philosophical problem with the presuppositional model in what Ken Ham writes, and it is this: adopting the presuppositional model ‘presupposes’ that you not only have the correct translation of the Bible but that you have correctly interpreted every single passage, down to the last word. A cursory check of the literature, past and present strongly suggests that such a task is beyond that of mortal man. The fact that there were varied interpretations of the the creation account even in the first couple of centuries after the time of Christ drives this home.  1 Corinthians 13:12 admonishes us thus:
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (KJV)
Howe refers to this in his statement:
“We should all remember that our understanding of God's Word never carries the same authority as God's Word itself does. Believers should always approach God's Word with humility and never equate their understanding of God's Word as being as comprehensive or as infallible as God's Word itself is," he stated. "[W]e believe that the question of the age of the earth is a question of what the Bible is saying not what the Bible is.”
And herein lies the heart of Ham's arrogance: in his mind, He has done these things.

Ham believes he has correctly interpreted the bible to the point where he now feels perfectly at home criticizing anyone who does not do so exactly the same way he does. Ancient and current commentaries be hanged. In his mind, they are simply wrong.

There is no humility in this position.  This arrogance allows him to that other Christians are not and thus, to preach heresy.  Just like the kerfuffle about the Great Home School convention, Peter Enns was, in Ham's mind, completely wrong and needed to be silenced.  This led the organizers to call his actions “unChristian and sinful.”

As Dan Wilkinson wrote, back in 2014, in response to Ham's assertion that people were leaving the church because of evolution:
No, Mr. Ham, no one’s leaving the church because evolution shows that “the Bible could not be trusted.”

Mr. Ham, they’re leaving the church because of people like you: people who fervently create walls, erect barriers, establish rigid rules for what one must believe in order to be a Christian. They’re leaving the church because your version of Christianity has nothing whatsoever to do with right practice, and everything to do with “right” belief. They’re leaving the church because by essentially demonizing everyone who doesn’t agree with you, you’ve made believing in Young Earth Creationism* more important than Jesus’ explicit explicit commandment to love God and neighbor.
With Ken Ham comes all kinds of mischief, controversy, ill-will and self-righteousness.  His actions are the very opposite of “Christ-like.”

Monday, January 01, 2018

A New Darwin Biography Gets Fisked

Jerry Coyne, a somewhat outspoken atheist and author of the book Why Evolution is True, has written a review of a new book on Darwin titled Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker by A.N. Wilson.  Coyne is baffled:
Given that many of Wilson’s earlier biographies have been admired for their style and insight, and not criticized for pervasive errors, this new project is baffling. Where Darwin’s other biographers have seen a sensitive and kindly man, a scrupulous scientist who willingly credited his predecessors, Wilson finds a greedy “self-mythologizer” desperate to become famous, even if it required ignoring or plagiarizing his forerunners and fellow naturalists.
In every portrayal of Darwin I have ever read, he is constantly generous, respectful, and professional. Coyne suggests that the problem does not lie with Darwin but with Wilson, who evidently makes many errors in this book:
In the most embarrassing error, Wilson claims that the first 50 pages of an important Darwin notebook have been lost forever, asserting that Darwin destroyed them to hide his intellectual cribbing from his contemporary Edward Blyth. In reality, Darwin simply placed those pages in a folder for later use, and they can easily be found online. Whatever Wilson was doing during the five years he spent researching and writing this book, it bears little relation to what we call “scholarship.”
According to Coyne, the same problem that lies at the heart of the book is the same philosophical problem that affects every anti-evolutionist: Darwin simply had to be incorrect about his ideas.  He simply had to be:
Why the sustained animus against Darwin? I think Wilson’s issue is not really Darwin but his ideas. “Darwin was wrong,” is how he opens the book, referring to the theory of evolution. Wilson plainly dislikes evolutionary biology, but, lacking scientific credentials, is not in a position to provide a thorough scientific critique of the field. Instead, he seems to have written a biography — a task he is at least in principle qualified for, having written 20 books on history — as a platform to launch an assault on evolution. Darwin’s character is simply collateral damage.
This kind of book is frustrating on so many levels.  The author has no knowledge of the subject matter so he makes unsophisticated attacks, and he is philosophically opposed to the subject matter so he deems it “bad.”

I once likened this sort of thing to bugs and a bug zapper.  Evolution is such a tempting target that even people that are absolutely unqualified to address it simply can't stay away.  We have seen this with Nancy Pearcey, Eric Metaxas, and others.  It is unfortunate that the reading public find these people informative on the topic.  As someone (probably not Mark Twain) once said: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”  Are these people absolutely lying?  Maybe not, but if they continue to repeat the same misinformation time and time again, even after they have been corrected, what difference does it make?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Has Noah's Ark Been Found?

Short answer: no.  But a story in Web Top News would have you believing otherwise. 
More than 100 researchers from around the world recently came together as part of a three-day international symposium on Mt Ararat and Noah’s Ark in Agrı in Turkey to see if they can find the ark’s final resting place.

“My purpose is to visit the sites around the mountain to find clues about catastrophic events in the past,” said Professor Raul Esperante from the Seventh-day Adventist Church-sponsored Geoscience Research Institute.

Their website states their mission is to “discover and share an understanding of nature and its relationship with the Biblical revelation of the Creator God”.

In 2010, a group of Chinese and Turkish evangelical explorers set out to explore the region and find the vessel’s remains.

After a few weeks, they claimed to have found wooden specimens from an ark-like structure 4000m up the mountain.

The mountain is the highest peak in Turkey, standing more than 5100 metres tall.

The team claimed they carbon dated the wood, which proved it was 4800 years old, around the time the ark is said to have been afloat.
Some are not convinced:
Nicholas Purcell, a lecturer in ancient history at Oxford University told MailOnline the claims were the “usual nonsense”.

“If floodwaters covered Eurasia 12,000ft [3700m] deep in 2800BC, how did the complex societies of Egypt and Mesopotamia, already many centuries old, keep right on regardless?”
One of the things that is pointed out by conventional geologists (and by young-earth creationist Andrew Snelling, later in the article) is that Mt. Ararat was a volcano and, if all of the vulcanism that is evident in the geological record really did occur during the year-long flood, it is difficult to imagine how the Ark would have been able to land on Mt. Ararat, which would surely have still been scalding hot. There are other problems with the idea that the vulcanism all occurred in one year but this is not the place for that.

It has always intrigued me why explorer after explorer assumes that the ark is specifically on this mountain.  There is no biblical mandate that the ark has to be here.  In fact, it plainly states that the ark came to rest in the "mountains of Urartu," which is an area of some 400,000 square miles, any one of which would have been just as likely.

But all of this sidesteps the other major problem:
Talking after the initial claims in 2010, Mike Pitt, a British archaeologist, said the evangelical explorers had yet to produce compelling evidence.

He said: “If there had been a flood capable of lifting a huge ship 4km up the side of a mountain 4800 years ago, I think there would be substantial geological evidence for this flood around the world. And there isn’t.”
It is not just that there is no evidence for a world-wide flood, there is a mountain of evidence suggesting that something like that could not have happened.

Goin' on another snipe hunt.  

Friday, December 22, 2017

Newsweek Dabbles in Young Earth Creationism

Kastalia Medrano, of Newsweek, has written a post describing the discovery of a fossilized Antarctic Forest.  The piece starts off innocuously enough:
Scientists announced the discovery of the fossilized trees in Antarctica’s Transantarctic Mountains in November. They believe the forest is the oldest one known to exist in the southern polar region, according to Breaking News Israel. They proposed that the ancient trees preserved a record of a large-scale global die-off event, which raised the planet’s temperature to dangerous extremes and turned its oceans acidic, and ultimately wiped out 95 percent of species on Earth. But they were left with the question of what exactly was the catalyst for those changes.
Then comes the sharp turn:
At least one biblical scholar believes he has the answer: The die-off event was the Great Flood described in the Book of Genesis.

“This discovery should be no surprise to those who take Genesis as literal history,” Tim Clarey, a geologist from the Institute for Creation Research, wrote on the ICR website. “The Bible clearly describes a global flood that affected all land masses—why should Antarctica be an exception?”
The problem, of course, is that the Permian extinction is only one of five mass extinction events, and it is not even the first one. It is the third, behind the Ordovician and late Devonian extinctions.The one that took out the dinosaurs was the late Cretaceous extinction.  Furthermore, there are many, many layers of sediment between each extinction event.  So the question: why would this particular extinction event signify the flood?  Why not the most recent one?  Also, isn't it generally thought by young earth creationists that the ENTIRE geologic column represents the flood deposits?  Clarey does not mention this at all in his column.

Part of the interpretation hinges on the discovery of fossil cells, which are explained by an extremely rapid burial, an explanation that Clarey doesn't buy.

Clarey then received a critique from a biblical scholar, Brent Landau, as Medrano writes: 
If you’re not persuaded by the secular community, take it from the religious community. Brent Landau, a biblical scholar from the University of Texas at Austin, told Newsweek that Clarey is “espousing a form of religiously motivated pseudoscience, and a relatively unsophisticated one at that.”

Landau explained that Young Earth Creationists arrive at the idea that the planet is only 10,000 years old through methods like adding up the ages of people written about in the Book of Genesis, and that there’s no need for religious scholars to take that kind of evidence more seriously than the “vast amount of scientific data” pointing to the Earth being around 4.6 billion years old.

“Notice that he links the destruction in Antarctica to the Flood, but insists that the scientists’ date for this catastrophe of 280 million years ago must be incorrect,” Landau wrote to Newsweek over email.
As Carol Hill pointed out, there simply isn't any defensible evidence for a world-wide flood. Even if the fossilized trees were entombed very rapidly, there are many other natural formations that show clear signs of slow deposition. You simply cannot extrapolate one localized area to the entire world, yet this what young-earth creationists continually do.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Modern Humans Came Out of Africa Earlier Than Thought and Did So Multiple Times

If you have been studying human evolution, this story is not new.We have suspected for some time that humans migrated out of Africa in waves, beginning with Homo heidelbergensis, up through archaic Homo sapiens and, now, modern Homo sapiens.  As the story notes, there have likely been multiple migrations of Homo sapiens, as well. 

From the story in Science Daily:
A review of recent research on dispersals by early modern humans from Africa to Asia by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Hawai'i at Manoa confirms that the traditional view of a single dispersal of anatomically modern humans out of Africa around 60,000 years ago can no longer be seen as the full story. The analysis, published in the journal Science, reviews the plethora of new discoveries being reported from Asia over the past decade, which were made possible by technological advances and interdisciplinary collaborations, and shows that Homo sapiens reached distant parts of the Asian continent, as well as Near Oceania, much earlier than previously thought. Additionally, evidence that modern humans interbred with other hominins already present in Asia, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, complicates the evolutionary history of our species.
Here is the graphic from the story:

What is only hinted at in the article is that when these waves of moderns came out of Africa, they interbred with the archaic hominins that they encountered. Further, this genome was remarkably stable, since there is genetic evidence that there was at least 500 thousand years of separation between them.Also missing from the story is the range of variation that these hybridizations display.  For example, as noted by the triangle on the map, the Xuchang fossils from China seem to show a mix of modern, Neandertal and late Homo erectus morphologies.  As I noted at the time:
The implications of these skulls are stark: there has been widespread population mixing and regional continuity in Europe and Asia for at least 400 thousand years. Not only did the Neandertals feel enough cultural kinship to mate and have children with these East Asian people, the early modern humans coming out of Africa did, as well.
The other peculiar thing about the graphic is that there seems to be no migration pattern through the strait of Gibraltar. This seems odd since this is likely at least one of the routes that were taken by H. ergaster between 1.5 and 2.0 mya, and since it is thought that the Levallois tool technology comes from the Middle Stone Age of Africa, this would have been a likely route of introduction.  There may have been a barrier of sorts, suggested by the fact that the latest surviving Neandertals are from Spain

Friday, December 15, 2017

Penguin From Hell

Okay, probably not nearly on the level of the Frog From Hell or the Snake From Hell, but coming into contact with a six-foot penguin would be quite something.  From the NPR Story:
An international team of scientists have announced the discovery of a previously unknown species of prehistoric penguin.

The bird waddled around off the east coast of New Zealand between 55 and 60 million years ago. And it was a giant as far as penguins go. The researchers estimate that it probably weighed about 220 pounds and was around 5 feet 10 inches tall.

"That's about as tall as a medium-sized man," says Gerald Mayr, a paleontologist at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Franfurt, Germany, and the lead author of the new study published today in Nature Communications. "This particular specimen is one of the largest known fossil penguins."

The largest living penguin, on the other hand, the Emperor penguin, is a good bit shorter — around 4 feet.

The scientists have named the new species Kumimanu biceae, which means 'monster bird' in the Maori language. (Kumi is the name of a monster in Maori mythology and manu means bird.)
Here is the image from the story:

(Image credit: Gerald Mayr)

Friday, November 24, 2017

New Jebel Irhoud Date Causes Rethink of Chinese Dali Skull

Newsweek (Yes, that Newsweek) has a story on the reexamination of the Chinese Dali cranium, in light of the revised dates for the Jebel Irhoud skulls.  Kastalia Medrano writes:
Known as the Dali skull, it was discovered nearly 40 years ago in China’s Shaanxi province. It belonged to a member of the early hominin species Homo erectus. Its facial structure and brain case are intact, despite being dated to around 260,000 years ago. The Dali skull is so old that archaeologists initially didn’t believe it could share features with the modern Homo sapiens.

But Xinzhi Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing believed that due to the overwhelming physical similarities, Homo erectus must have shared DNA with Homo sapiens. After decades of this idea being dismissed by mainstream academia, Wu and a colleague, Sheela Athreya of Texas A&M University, recently reanalyzed the Dali skull and found it may force us to rewrite our evolutionary history after all. It’s incredibly similar to two separate Homo sapiens skulls previously found in Morocco. “I really wasn’t expecting that,” Athreya told New Scientist.

If we’d found only the Moroccan skulls, and not the Dali skull, it would make sense to keep believing all modern humans evolved in Africa. But the similarities show that early modern humans may not have been genetically isolated from other parts of the world, like what we know today as China.

“I think gene flow could have been multidirectional, so some of the traits seen in Europe or Africa could have originated in Asia,” Athreya told New Scientist.
Okay, now the nuts and bolts.Dali has always been thought to occupy that rarified space between Homo erectus  and early modern Homo sapiens.  It was always thought to be between 200 and 250 kya, and optically-stimulated luminescence dating (a variant of thermoluminescence) places it between 258 and 267 kya.  My analyses of the skull suggested that it was, in no way, shape or form, a modern human but it did not tend to cluster with the Neandertals in terms of head shape.  Athreya and Wu have done an extensive multivariate analysis and conclude (from the article, likely behind a paywall:
When just the facial skeleton is considered, Dali aligns with Middle Paleolithic H. sapiens and is clearly more derived than African or Eurasian Middle Pleistocene Homo. When just the neurocranium is considered, Dali is most similar to African and Eastern Eurasian but not Western European Middle Pleistocene Homo. When both sets of variables are considered together, Dali exhibits a unique morphology that is most closely aligned with the earliest H. sapiens from North Africa and the Levant.

These results add perspective to our previous view of as Dali a “transitional” form between
Chinese H. erectus and H. sapiens. Athough no taxonomic allocation is appropriate at this time for Dali, it appears to represent a population that played a more central role in the origin of Chinese H. sapiens. Dali's affinities can be understood in the context of Wu's Continuity with Hybridization scenario and a braided-stream network model of gene flow. Specifically, we propose that Pleistocene populations in China were shaped by periods of isolated evolutionary change within local lineages at certain times, and gene flow between local lineages or between Eastern and Western Eurasia, and Africa at other times, resulting in contributions being made in different capacities to different regions at different times.
In combination with the Xuchang remains, the reanalysis of this skull suggests that, indeed, there is a long and complex interrelationship between different hominin groups that dates back some 400 thousand years. From the paper:
In the braided-stream network model, evolutionary change in China was the result of a shifting network of gene flow among distinct regional Chinese populations, as well as between Chinese and Western Eurasian populations. These were not isolated evolutionary lineages; gene flow both within China and between Eastern Eurasia, Western Eurasia and Africa was intermittent and could explain the similarities in aspects of the neurocranium found here between Dali and Western Eurasian Middle Pleistocene humans. Gene flow would best be described as a braided stream network with periods of isolated evolutionary change within a local lineage at times, and periods of gene flow between local lineages or paleo-demes at other times, resulting in contributions being made in different capacities to different regions at different times.
It is pretty clear that our simplistic models of Recent African Replacement and Multiregional Evolution need to be reworked. It is becoming more apparent that what we are looking at either a polytypic species with a huge geographical range or a syngamion of related species that intermixed regularly. The Xuchang skulls were, apparently, not unique.