Sunday, December 21, 2008

Creation Moments II

The ICR page has an article written by Brian Thomas, a science writer, on why Neanderthal Men Were Modern Men. It is an object lesson on how to misread the fossil evidence. Here is how it starts:

A set of fossilized human remains has been discovered in Iberia that shows partial Neanderthal characteristics, proving again that Neanderthals interbred with anatomically modern men.1 This adds to a growing list of evidence, consistent with biblical history, that demonstrates Neanderthal to have been fully human, rather than an evolutionary transition.2

The first cited article is Walker et al. (in press). Here is the conclusion from that article:

The human remains from the Sima de la Palomas in southeastern Iberia therefore document the presence of Neandertals, relatively late in the Middle Paleolithic. They help to substantiate that the Middle Paleolithic of the region was the product of Neandertals, even though diagnostic human remains associated with the very latest phases of this technocomplex in Europe remain elusive. At the same time that the Palomas humans exhibit a suite of derived Neandertal features and archaic Homo configurations long since lost among early modern humans, their morphological variation indicates that they deviate from the expected Neandertal ranges of variation. This pattern may be result of genetic drift in relative isolation, directional change or, perhaps more likely, population contact to the north. (emphasis mine)

The Palomas Neandertal remains do not represent "partial" Neandertal characteristics. They show a Neandertal population with some modern characteristics. Does this mean that they were the same species? Maybe, maybe not. This does not change the fact that they were clearly different from modern humans in appearance. As Dave Frayer has pointed out, even though there are traits present in modern Europeans that are reminiscent of Neandertal traits, there are no modern humans with the full suite of Neandertal characteristics. If you saw a Neandertal on the subway, you would know good and well he wasn't a modern human. They might be Homo sapiens, but they were certainly not modern humans.


He also writes:

Anthropologist Marvin L. Lubenow has shown that Neanderthal, other than having a larger cranial capacity, was anatomically the same as Homo erectus.3 Their fossils do not fit into the depiction of a linear evolutionary ape-to-man transition that is iconic today, but were simply comingling variations of humankind. Furthermore, a fossil elbow (KP 271) and the Laetoli footprints of Neanderthal man are indistinguishable from modern man, and both have been dated by evolutionary scientists at 4 million years or older—predating the earliest Neanderthals!4 Thus, within the published evolutionary dates, “anatomically modern Homo sapiens, Neandertal, archaic Homo sapiens, and Homo erectus [as well as Lucy-like Australopithecinces] all lived as contemporaries.3

I have read Lubenow's book. It is not good and that is being charitable. This paragraph suffers from what Hugh Ross characterizes as "failure to consider alternative explanations." To Lubenow, the presence of a fossil elbow with some modern characteristics proves that modern humans and australopithecines coexisted because he chooses to look at the elbow in isolation, instead of with the rest of the fossil assemblage at the site. Here is a list of what was found at that site:

KNM-KP 29281 1, 2 Holotype mandible & L temporal fragment
KNM-KP 29282 — LM1 or M2
KNM-KP 29283 3 Maxilla
KNM-KP 29284 4 RC & RP3 germs
KNM-KP 29285 14, 15 R proximal & distal tibia
KNM-KP 29286 5 Mandible fragments & associated dentition
(RI1, L & RI2-M3)
KNM-KP 29287 6 Mandible with teeth
KNM-KP 30498 7 L & R maxillary fragments & associated dentition
KNM-KP 30500 8 Mandibular fragments & associated dentition
KNM-KP 30502 4 Associated mandibular tooth fragments
KNM-KP 30503 16 Proximal manual phalanx
KNM-KP 30505 4 Partial M germ
KNM-KP 30942 — 5 tooth fragments
KNM-KP 31712 9 Associated juvenile mandibular & dental fragments
KNM-KP 31713 10 R mandible with tooth fragments
KNM-KP 31714 4 Ldm2
KNM-KP 31715 — LM1 or M2 fragment & two other tooth fragments
KNM-KP 31716 — P3 or P4 fragment & C/ fragments
KNM-KP 31717 4 LM3, RM3 & LM2 fragments
KNM-KP 31718 — R Mandibular fragment (M2–3)
KNM-KP 31719 — I1
KNM-KP 31720 — Maxillary M fragment
KNM-KP 31721 — RM2 & M3 partial crowns
KNM-KP 31723 4 RM3
KNM-KP 31724 17 L capitate
KNM-KP 31726 4 RP4
KNM-KP 31727 — RC
KNM-KP 31728 4 LM1
KNM-KP 31729 4 Rdm2
KNM-KP 31730 4 LM2 & RP3
KNM-KP 31732 — Tooth fragments
KNM-KP 34725 11 Associated juvenile dentition and skull fragments
KNM-KP 35838 — LM3
KNM KP 35839 12 Associated LI1, RC & LP3
KNM-KP 35840 — LM3 & maxillary M fragments
KNM-KP 35841 — M crown
KNM-KP 35842 4 R maxillary M
KNM-KP 35844 — M fragment
KNM-KP 35845 — M fragment
KNM-KP 35847 4 LM2
KNM-KP 35850 — Maxillary M fragment
KNM-KP 35851 — LM2 or M3 fragment
KNM-KP 35852 4 LC
KNM-KP 37522 — L mandibular molar
KNM-KP 37523 — M fragment
KNM-KP 37524 — Tooth fragments

Here is the conclusion from that article:

Australopitheus anamensis predates all other taxa that have been assigned to Australopithecus, and in most ways it appears to be more primitive than any other. Although it is readily distinguishable from A. afarensis, this is because A. anamensis is generally more primitive in all except its uniquely large maxillary canine basal tubercles and rounded inferior contour of the external surface of its mandibular symphysis. The possibility that A. anamensis represents an
ancestor of A. afarensis is not precluded by the evidence available to date. (Ward, Leakey and Walker, 2001)

That was their conclusion after looking at all of the data, not just one bone. Why didn't Lubenow look at all of the fossil data before making his conclusion that modern humans lived with australopithecines? I will venture it is because Lubenow has dismissed evolutionary scenarios out of hand. Since he has done so, it is inconceivable to him the fossil remains that the individuals at this site represent mosaic evolution. He must view them independently. Therefore, to him, it looks like there are several different species of hominid present at the site, which validates his premise that evolution is false. The problem is that he can't see the forest for the trees. The data doesn't disprove evolution, it supports it.

This also presents a perfect example of the creationists' catch-22 claim that there are no transitional forms. Taken in total, the material from this site shows, as the conclusion above notes, that this form is intermediate to what came before (perhaps Ardipithecus, perhaps Sahelanthropus, perhaps Orrorin or none of the above), and what came after, A. afarensis. Yet, by claiming that one of the bones represents a modern human, Lubenow has effectively said, "there's no transitional form here, just a collection of different hominids." Damned if you do, damned if you don't. It reminds me of what Frank Sherwin said about Tiktaalik, the intermediate form between the late fish and early tetrapods—that it wasn't an example of a transitional form because it was incomplete. This despite the fact that every part of the fossil that was complete screamed "transitional form!!!"

Conveniently lost in the ICR's interpretation of this material is that these fossils are found in strata that are over three million years old and that there are no Neandertals anywhere at this depth, just as there are no australopithecines in the same strata as Neandertals. What you do find is that just above the strata containing the last australopithecines, you find early archaic Homo. Above strata containing these hominids, you find Homo erectus/ergaster. Above strata containing these hominids you find archaic Homo sapiens, and above them you find modern humans. The important thing to remember, though, is that many of these species overlap and, perhaps, coexist across the landscape. That is how evolution works. Unfortunately, the folks at the ICR will never see that.


Walker, M., Gilbert, J., Lopez, M. et al. (in press) Late Neandertals in Southeastern Iberia: Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Murcia, Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. n.p.

Ward, C., Leakey, M., and Walker, A. (2001) Morphology of Australopithecus anamensis
from Kanapoi and Allia Bay, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution. 41: 255-268.

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