Rethinking Your Relatives—the Fossilized Ones

A rare find suggests that there were fewer prehuman species than we believe—and that has implications throughout the fossil record

  • Share
  • Read Later
Zurab Kurtsikidze / EPA

Professor David Lordkipanidze of the Georgia National Museum shows a skull of an ape-like man who lived about 1.8 million years ago in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 18, 2013.

Scholars of human evolution often don’t have much to go on. It’s rare that prehistoric bones are preserved as fossils, and much rarer still that paleo-anthropologists find anything approaching the complete skeleton of any individual. Newly discovered specimens are often categorized based only on a single surviving bone—and if that sounds like a sketchy exercise, it is. You can easily imagine a scientist of the future digging up the arm bone of a jockey and the leg bone of an NBA center and deciding they belong to two entirely different species.

That’s why a new discovery reported in the latest Science is so important. A team of investigators has uncovered the exquisitely preserved skull of a hominid dating back some 1.8 million years at a site called Dimanisi, in the Republic of Georgia, in Central Asia. And that artifact raises doubts about the generally accepted idea that several human species populated the Earth at that time.

“We have one global human species today,” said Christoph Zollikofer, of the Anthropological Institute and Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, a co-author of the Science report, at a press conference. “And what we can infer from our study is that 1.8 million years ago there was another [single] global human species.”

(MORE: Hands Beat Feet: An Old Evolutionary Question is Answered)

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom in the field of human evolution. Experts know that at various points in our history, multiple human species have walked the Earth together, including as recently as 30,000 years ago, when modern humans and Neanderthals co-existed—and maybe even cuddled—in parts of Europe. (There might even have been a third species hiding out at the time in parts of Indonesia.) Back in 1.8 million B.C., there may have been multiple species as well, Homo erectus, Homo ergaster and Homo rudolfensis among them.

Or maybe not: the Dimanisi site has proven so rich that Zollikofer and his co-authors had not the newly announced skull to work with, but four others as well. What’s more, the five skulls were found close together physically, and they were all deposited within a few hundred years of each other in what had been a cave, now collapsed. “It’s the most complete collection of hominid fossils from any site of this age,” said lead author David Lordkipanidze, of the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi. Along with thousands of other plant and animal remains found at the site, “it’s a real snapshot in time; it preserves the whole ecosystem.

The proximity in space and time makes it very likely that all five individuals belonged to the same population, although not necessarily the same generation. (“It would be a beautiful story if they all were from one family,” said Lordkipanidze, “but maybe too beautiful.”) And that in turn allowed the scientists to measure variations from one individual to the next—particularly since they weren’t limited to fragments that would leave them studying the jawbone of one skull and the braincase of another. In fact, the lower jaw of the new skeleton was found first, back in 2000; the rest of the skull emerged in 2005. “We are convinced,” said Zollikofer, “that if the pieces had been found in different places they would have been attributed to different species.”

(MORE: Meet the Half-Billion Year Old Lobster Spider. With Tusks)

That’s no surprise, said co-author Marcia Ponce de Leon, also of Zurich’s Anthropological Institute. “The braincase is very unexpectedly small, around a third of that of modern humans. At the same time, the face is quite large and the jaws are quite massive. It’s a fresh combination of features we didn’t know before in early Homo.” But the jaw fits the skull perfectly, and when a variety of characteristics from all five individuals were compared, the result, said Zollikofer, was that “they’re no more different from each other than five randomly chosen humans would be, or five chimps, or five bonbos.”

This has implications for other parts of the fossil record. The differences among the specimens at Dimanisi are no greater than those among some collections of African fossils that were assumed to have come from different species. But if the new remains represent a single species, the earlier ones might too. Not everyone agrees: paleo-anthropologist Ian Tattersall, for example, of New York’s American Museum of Natural History, told Science for an accompanying news story that he remains unconvinced of the conclusions the authors draw about the Dimanisi fossils, and others are equally wary.

But everyone agrees that the new, complete skull is an extraordinary find. It is, Tattersall told Science, “undoubtedly one of the most important ever discovered,” while Tim White, of the University of California, Berkeley called it “iconic.” And there’s likely more to come: the Dimanisi site covers some 540,000 sq. ft. (50,000 sq. m), only a fraction of which has yet been excavated. By the time Lordkipanidze and his colleagues are done, at least one chapter in the story of human evolution could be completely rewritten.

(MORE: Brainy Elephants. One More Way They’re As Smart As Humans)

13 comments
MichaelSheeran
MichaelSheeran

@BabuG.Ranganathan 

The real issue is what biological variations are possible, not natural
selection.
Evolutionists believe and hope that over, supposedly millions of years, random genetic mutations caused by environmental radiation will generate entirely new genes. This is total blind and irrational faith on the part of evolutionists. (And how would you describe the blind & irrational faith in a creator ?) It's much like believing that randomly changing the sequence of letters in a romance novel, over millions of years, will turn it into a book on astronomy! That's the kind of blind faith macro-evolutionists have.

And let me finish by saying that I might be wrong. Against all possible logic there might indeed be a Creator and if that is the case I will at least find out the truth when I die.

MichaelSheeran
MichaelSheeran

@BabuG.Ranganathan 

What about natural selection? Natural selection doesn't produce biological traits or variations. It can only "select" from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. The term "natural selection" is a figure of speech. Nature doesn't do any conscious selecting. If a variation occurs in a species (i.e. change in skin color) that helps the species survive then that survival is called being"selected." That's all it is. Natural selection is a passive process in nature, not a creative process. (True. It’s the random mutations that (sometimes) are the creative process. Nature just culls the ones that don’t (at that specific point in space & time) help that specific organism survive.)

MichaelSheeran
MichaelSheeran

@BabuG.Ranganathan What about genetic and biological similarities between species? Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot happen by chance,(How to you come to this absurd conclusion ? ANYTHING can happen by chance) so it is more logical to believe that genetic and biological similarities between all forms of life are due to a common Designer who designed similar functions for similar purposes. It doesn't mean all forms of life are biologically related! (Actually I believe that it does. Yes, similar function usually brings similar form but not always. Wouldn’t it be more logical to think that the simpler explanation is true ? A common Designer is, if nothing else, NOT a simpler solution.)

Also, so-called "Junk DNA" isn't junk. Although these "non-coding" segments of DNA don't code for proteins, they have recently been found to be vital in regulating gene expression (i.e. when, where, and how genes are expressed, so they're not "junk"). Read my popular Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM

MichaelSheeran
MichaelSheeran

@BabuG.Ranganathan All species of plants and animals in the fossil record are found complete, fully-formed, fully functional. (The article you just commented on begins with “It’s rare that prehistoric bones are preserved as fossils, and much rarer still that paleo-anthropologists find anything approaching the complete skeleton of any individual. Newly discovered specimens are often categorized based only on a single surviving bone”) This is powerful evidence that species did not come into existence gradually by any macro-evolutionary process but, rather, came into existence as complete and ready-to-go from the very beginning which is possible only by special creation.

 

MichaelSheeran
MichaelSheeran

@BabuG.Ranganathan 

How could species have survived if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems, etc. were still evolving? A partially evolved trait or organ that is not complete and fully functioning from the start would be a liability to a species, not a survival asset. (How do you know this ? Lots of mutations probably don’t have any effect on the survivability of an organism.) Plants and animals in the process of macro-evolution would be unfit for survival. For example, “if a leg of a reptile were to evolve (over supposedly millions of years) into a wing of a bird, it would become a bad leg long before it became a good wing” (Dr. Walt Brown, scientist and creationist). Survival of the fittest actually would have prevented evolution across biological kinds! Read my Internet article: WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS! (2nd Edition). (Except that a lot of the genetic changes do not come into play until far later. You could have an large amount of mutations that sit dormant until the mutation occurs that causes that area of genetic code to be expressed.)

MichaelSheeran
MichaelSheeran

@BabuG.Ranganathan

NATURAL LIMITS TO EVOLUTION: Only micro-evolution, or evolution within biological "kinds," is genetically possible (such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.), but not macro-evolution, or evolution across biological "kinds," (such as from sea sponge to human). All real evolution in nature is simply the expression, over time, of already existing genes or variations of already existing genes. For example, we have breeds of dogs today that we didn’t have a few hundred years ago. The genes for these breeds had always existed in the dog population but never had opportunity before to be expressed. Only limited evolution andadaptation, variations of already existing genes and traits, ispossible. Nature is mindless and has no ability to design and program entirely new genes for entirely new traits. (Nature of course doesn’t design & program, that’s not how evolution works. Random changes occur and the environment determines if the mutation helps or hinders the organism in surviving and/or passing on its genetic material.)

joelp77440
joelp77440

I knew it!  The guy with the crazy hair from the TV show "Ancient Aliens" was right, we are descended from aliens.  This could explain why a certain family member looks like E.T.

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

NATURAL LIMITS TO EVOLUTION: Only micro-evolution, or evolution within biological "kinds," is genetically possible (such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.), but not macro-evolution, or evolution across biological "kinds," (such as from sea sponge to human). All real evolution in nature is simply the expression, over time, of already existing genes or variations of already existing genes. For example, we have breeds of dogs today that we didn’t have a few hundred years ago. The genes for these breeds had always existed in the dog population but never had opportunity before to be expressed. Only limited evolution andadaptation, variations of already existing genes and traits, ispossible. Nature is mindless and has no ability to design and program entirely new genes for entirely new traits.

How could species have survived if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems, etc. were still evolving? A partially evolved trait or organ that is not complete and fully functioning from the start would be a liability to a species, not a survival asset. Plants and animals in the process of macro-evolution would be unfit for survival. For example, “if a leg of a reptile were to evolve (over supposedly millions of years) into a wing of a bird, it would become a bad leg long before it became a good wing” (Dr. Walt Brown, scientist and creationist). Survival of the fittest actually would have prevented evolution across biological kinds! Read my Internet article: WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS! (2nd Edition).

All species of plants and animals in the fossil record are found complete, fully-formed, fully functional. This is powerful evidence that species did not come into existence gradually by any macro-evolutionary process but, rather, came into existence as complete and ready-to-go from the very beginning which is possible only by special creation.

What about genetic and biological similarities between species? Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot happen by chance, so it is more logical to believe that genetic and biological similarities between all forms of life are due to a common Designer who designed similar functions for similar purposes. It doesn't mean all forms of life are biologically related!

Also, so-called "Junk DNA" isn't junk. Although these "non-coding" segments of DNA don't code for proteins, they have recently been found to be vital in regulating gene expression (i.e. when, where, and how genes are expressed, so they're not "junk"). Read my popular Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM

What about natural selection? Natural selection doesn't produce biological traits or variations. It can only "select" from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. The term "natural selection" is a figure of speech. Nature doesn't do any conscious selecting. If a variation occurs in a species (i.e. change in skin color) that helps the species survive then that survival is called being"selected." That's all it is. Natural selection is a passive process in nature, not a creative process.

The real issue is what biological variations are possible, not natural
selection.

Evolutionists believe and hope that over, supposedly millions of years, random

genetic mutations caused by environmental radiation will generate entirely new genes. This is total blind and irrational faith on the part of evolutionists. It's much like believing that randomly changing the sequence of letters in a romance novel, over millions of years, will turn it into a book on astronomy! That's the kind of blind faith macro-evolutionists have.

Visit my latest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION .

I discuss: Punctuated Equilibria, "Junk DNA," genetics, mutations, natural selection, fossils, dinosaur “feathers,” the genetic and biological similarities between various species, etc., etc.

Babu G. Ranganathan*
B.A. Bible/Biology

Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

*I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I've been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who in The East" for my writings on religion and science.

guardian
guardian

Successful mutation is the repeating of traits that are advantagious to an environment. Leaving those that lack the advantage to die and not breed. If the environment is relativly constant there-after the trait continues and so on.The past is also about the failures being selected out of the gene pool.

       DNA is mysterious in origin and ability, it contains enormous options and flexability as if pre-loaded for endless variation. How could a lesser form contain the vitals of a greater form? Endless variation? survival ability?  It is unreasonable to believe there is not a devine origin-designor. However, there is radical changes that do happen, call them what you choose. There are species that have evolved from sea to land to air. There are inter-species in the fossil record. Fish with legs etc. This doesnt lessen the greatness of the designer it strengthens its greatness. Perhaps religious beliefs cloud your thinking vs. thinking adding to your deliefs, a greater vission. In any event I have never heard a sufficient reason as to what motivates life to move forward , to thrive. Life acts as though it has a will common to all life.The study of the life- force trumps the method of its history.  

          Our science is often flawed but its all we have besides our beliefs which have problems of its own. Man is both observer and believer, he needs to know and to know what that means. We are real, physical and spititual beings...

commentonitall
commentonitall

@jd998bb @BabuG.Ranganathan 

He actually does bring up some valid points when looked at logically which fly in the face of what has been told to us.  To think we have a firm grasp on our past is arrogant and ridiculous.  A few hundred years ago we thought the world was flat and to say otherwise would make you sound like a crazy person.  You sound like one of those people from our past who we laugh at for being so blind and close minded.

guardian
guardian

The essential nature and function of true religion-spiritual understanding is the study of our spiritual nature and devine origin.  Our purpose, salvation , connection with the life force-creator. All the other crap you mention is cherry picking the flaws of the process.   

jd998bb
jd998bb

@commentonitall No...he doesn't...and the reason is his "logic" as you call it is based on some form of intelligent design...AKA...god...AKA...religion. If you want to "laugh at me" then go right ahead. I'm one of "those people" who live in the 21st century, believe in scientific analysis that STANDS ON ITS OWN without mixing it with outdated myths, stories, dogma and all the rest of the crap that goes along with organized religion. In any form, from anyplace. Christianity, Muslim, Budda, Zen...throw them all in there with Scientology and take them to the trash heap. We'd all be better off in my book. Or perhaps you see some correlation with his crackpot ideals and maybe the little green men planted us...also within his realm of "logical thinking". Lets face it, there are more and more folks like me who think the "imaginary friends" ideal of religion should be kept away from science, education, government...and then there is the group you apparently admire. The ones who "see god everywhere". Have at it. Good luck with that. But don't be disappointed when folks call you out on mixing entirely separate ingredients when trying to bake the "where did humans come from cake"? When folks were trying to prove, talk about, show that the world wasn't flat, the sun didn't hide at night, the earth orbited the sun and not vice versa...it was religious leaders who were running the purges and espousing a better understanding...not the other way around. Unlike his statement that apparently I think "Evolutionists believe and hope that over, supposedly millions of years, random genetic mutations caused by environmental radiation will generate entirely new genes". I do not. Frankly, I'm willing to wait until science actually figures it out. In the meantime I live my life...without worrying about some "uber being" having set the stage and supposedly is actually running the show. All I can say is if "it" is..."it" is doing one crappy job...start to finish. Cheers.



Read more: http://science.time.com/2013/10/17/rethinking-your-ancestors-the-fossilized-ones/#ixzz2i6KvUegn