This week's anthropological discovery

Glenn R. Morton (grmorton@waymark.net)
Sat, 24 Apr 1999 10:52:20 -0500

The past six weeks have been good to my views. First there was the
proof of paternal mtDNA inheritance which had the effect of moving the
date of mitochondrial Eve back to a time of at least 400,000 years.
(see http://www.calvin.edu/archive/evolution/199903/0294.html )
This time is prior to when there were anatomically modern people on the
earth. This means that Eve was NOT an anatomically modern human! And
this removes the 'support' progressive creationists have claimed for
their view that mankind was created 100 kyr ago in a morphological form
just like ours.

Then there was the dental development discoveries from Atapuerca Spain
in which children 800 kyr ago had a modern human dental development,
which means that mothers had to care for their children in a
characteristically human fashion. (J. M. Bermudez de Castro, A. Rosas,
E. Carbonell, M. E. Nicolas J. Rodriquez and J. L. Arsuaga, "A Modern
Human Pattern of Dental Development in Lower Pleistocene Hominids from
Atapuerca-TD6(Spain)," Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 96(1999):4210-4213)

Last week was the discovery of a possible Neanderthal/modern human
hybrid which, if true, destroys the modern progressive creationist view
of God creating Adam 100,000 years ago (more on that in another post).
And these discoveries fit very nicely into an upcoming article in
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith June 1999, "Dating Adam" in
press.

This week's discovery of a a new species of Australopithecus who made
stone tools and hunted meat give support to a speculation I advanced in
the earliest versions of Foundation, Fall and Flood. There I had
speculated that it might become necessary to consider Australopithecine
as human in the spiritual sense. Since that time I had backed off from
that possibility. Last week's discovery has shown something new about
Australopithecines--they made stone tools and they hunted. (see
http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/042399sci-human-fossil.html).
The evidence for stone tools is in the form of antelope bones with stone
tool cut marks found in association with the Australopithecine skeletal
material. When animals are butchered by stone tools, cut marks are found
on the bones where the stone tool was used to cut muscle away from the
bone. Their presence on bones aged 2.5 myr alone with the
Australopithecus is strong evidence of hunting.

Now, this site is one of two that shows that Australopithecus used
tools. The other is at Swartkrans, South Africa where bone tools were
found in association with possible fire use. (B. A. Wood, "Evolution of
Australopithecines,"in S. Jones et al, editors, The Cambridge
Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1992), p. 239). There is also the 3 myr old Makapansgat pebble which
was a rock with a naturally occuring face on it which resembled an
Australopithecus. The rock was made of precambrian banded iron formation
and did not belong in a limestone cave. Someone carried it at least 3
miles back to the limestone cave. It has been interpreted as an ability
to recognize art and recognize self.

It appears that cultural remains are associated with Australopithecus.
So what is the theological status of them? Given the low level of
culture it will be very difficult to give a definitive answer to that.
But Christians do need to keep the possibility open that they may fall
into humanity. This would not be inconsistent with taxonomical data as
many anthropologists over the years have argued that Australopithecus
should be classified as a member of our genus, Homo. John Robinson, a
very well respected member of the south African Anthropological
community, wrote in 1967):
"If variation is properly taken into account and due attention is paid
to diagnostic criteria, the obvious conclusion appears to be that the
hominids are not a taxonomically diverse group. On the contrary the
group seems to have been taxonomically compact with with two major
lineages only. One is less progressive and comprises the genus
paranthropus, which appears to have become extinct in the Middle
Pleistocene. The other is a much more progressive line, which at all
times after it was recognizably different from the former was adapting
to its environment in a manner that involved culture as a very prominent
part of the adaptation. this line includes what currently is regarded
as Australopithecus (sensu strico) and Homo. Since it is a line
occupying one adaptive zone, I consider it reasonable to use a single
generic name for it, and this would have to be Homo, according to the
Code. Also, being a single lineage, its taxonomy is largely a matter of
taste since no completely separate taxa, differentiable by means of
properly diagnostic charactes, can be found in it. However, since two
more or less separate groups can be defined within the lineage, two
species could be made without serious difficulty. The first would
include the more primitive stage, in which the full characters of the
genus were being achieved, in which the brain is relatively small, the
primitive type of internal mandibular contour is still present and the
cultural level achieved is not especially advanced. this would properly
be named H. transvaalensis. Some authors have recently suggested
something similar to this but refer to the species thus defined as H.
africanus by simply substituting Homo for Australopithecus. However,
this is not proper since the trivial name africanus is preoccupied as
far as the genus Homo is concerned (having been used by Broom for Boskop
Man), hence it may not be used here, and the next senior trivial name,
transvaalensis, must be used instead, as Mayr realized a long time ago.
"The second species, representing the stage in which most of the
obvious physical change had already occurred and evolution consisted
chiefly of realization of the cultural potential, hence the most obvious
change being cultural, would be H. sapiens, this name having taxonomic
precedence over H. erectus. It is obvious, however, that the characters
of the one species grade into the other, hence with sufficient material
known, some specimens would be difficult to classify. Some workers
might prefer to make more species and others may prefer to have only a
single species; this is a matter of tast and I have here suggested what
appears to me to be most meaningful.
"I suggest, therefore, that the time has come to sink the genus
Australopithecus Dart, 1925 into the synonymy of the genus Homo
Linnaeus, 1758. On this interpretation the family Hominidae includes
the genera Paranthropus Broom 1938, and Homo. If the above
interpretation is correct, then there can hardly be justification for
having two subfamilies. There can also be very little justification
either for using the term 'australopithecine.'" ~ John T. Robinson,
"Variation and the Taxonomy of the Early Hominids," Evolutionary Biology
1(1967):69-100, p. 97-98

And 50 years ago, the world-famous taxonomist, Earnst Mayr, argued for
only one genus of hominids. He did this at the famous Cold Spring
Harbor symposium in which the plethora of hominid fossil names were
reduced to two, Australopithecus, and Homo. Mayr wrote:

"Being left with one species of gorilla and one species of chimpanzees,
we are confronted by the question whether or not they are sufficiently
different to justify placing them in different genera. A specialist of
anthropoids impressed by the many differences between these species may
want to do so. 0ther zoologists will conclude that the differences
between the two species are not indicative of a generic level of
difference when measured in the standards customary in most branches of
zoology. To place these two anthropoids into two separate genera defeats
the function of generic nomenclature and conceals the close relationship
of gorilla and chimpanzee as compared with much more different orang
and the gibbons. Recognizing a separate genus for the gorilla would
necessitate raising the orang and the gibbon to subfamily or family rank
as has indeed been done or suggested. This only worsens the inequality
of the higher categories among the primates.
"The same is true for the fossil hominids. After due consideration of
the many differences between Modern man, Java man, and the South African
ape-man, I did not find any morphological characters that would
necessitate separating them into several genera. Not even
Australopithecus has unequivocal claims for separation. This form
appears to possess what might be considered the principal generic
character of Homo, namely, upright posture with its shift to a
terrestrial mode of living and the freeing of the anterior extremity for
new functions which, in turn, have stimulated brain evolution. Within
this type there has been phyletic speciation resulting in Homo sapiens.
" Ernst Mayr, "Taxonomic Categories in Fossil Hominids," Cold Spring
Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 15(1951)pp109-117, reprinted
in William White Howells, Ideas on Human Evolution, (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1962), pp 241-256, p. 245

While most christian apologists don't dig deeply enough to ever learn of
these facts and issues, they are still issues and will raise their head
again as more cultural data is found in association with
Australopithecus.

For now, I still prefer to hold that Noah was a yet undiscovered member
of our genus as currently defined. But I certainly could be wrong.

-- 
glenn

Foundation, Fall and Flood Adam, Apes and Anthropology http://www.isource.net/~grmorton/dmd.htm