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Book Jacket

0801065232
Trade Paperback
400 pages
Oct 2004
Baker Books

Bones of Contention, updated and expanded ed.: A Creationist's Assessment of Human Fossils

by Marvin L. Lubenow

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

“SHOW ME YOUR FOSSILS;
I’LL SHOW YOU MINE”

PEOPLE STARE. As they approach the table lined with human skulls, the mood is one of silence and incredible wonder. When someone finally dares to break the silence, I know instinctively what the question will be. I have heard it hundreds of times. “Are they real?”

When I inform the questioners that the skulls are plaster casts of original fossils, the mood changes to relief that they are not in the presence of death. However, even my assurance that the skulls are accurate and expensive casts of the original fossil material doesn’t restore the mystique that was obvious before the question was asked.

The very thought that a professor at a Christian college would possess thirty original human fossils reveals the magnitude of the misconception that exists in the mind of the public regarding these fossils. It represents the first myth about human evolution that I want to discuss.

Although I have visited most of the major natural history museums in the United States and some overseas, I have never seen an original human fossil. Neither have most of the anthropologists who teach human evolution in our universities. Neither have you. In fact, you may not have even seen a picture of an original fossil. What you thought were pictures of original fossils may have been pictures of reproductions.

No prisoner on death row is under greater security than those ancient relics called human fossils. Most of the original fossils are sequestered inside vaults of concrete or stone and accessible only through massive steel doors, the type you would expect to see at the First National Bank. Few can even see them—let alone study them.

This process of seclusion was true with the original 1856 Feldhofer Cave Neandertal. “The skull and the bones were Fuhlrott’s private property, and he did not show them to many. Only very few scholars in Britain and on the Continent had seen the skull or obtained a cast.” Even Rudolf Virchow, the greatest medical man of his time, “could only study the remains in Fuhlrott’s house after gaining access from his wife when Fuhlrott was away.”1 William King never saw the original fossils, although he is the one who, in naming them Homo neanderthalensis in 1864, declared them to represent a different species from modern humans. Darwin never saw these or any other fossil humans, although he published an entire book on human evolution in 1871. Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, never saw the original fossils either, although he described them in his famous 1863 work, Man’s Place in Nature.2 That should dispense with the concept that human evolution was based upon fossil evidence.

 

HOMINID

The word is used by the evolutionist community to mean “humans and their evolutionary ancestors.” It includes the genus Homo, the genus Australopithecus, and all creatures in the family Hominidae. As an evolutionist term it is meaningless in a creationist worldview. The creationist counterpart would include the terms humans and non-human primates. I use the term human in this book to refer to those who are descendants of the biblical Adam.

 

Germany built a two-story museum to celebrate the fossil skull known as Steinheim Man, discovered in 1933. Visitors, however, see only plastic replicas. The fossil itself is kept in a small safe several miles away. This safe is set into the thick stone wall of a 250-year-old military arsenal outside Stuttgart. The fossil’s former home was a bank vault. The story is told that when scientists came to study the fossil, they were blindfolded, driven to the bank, and unmasked only when safely inside so that they would not even know the location of the bank. “While it was never described in great detail, this fossil played a central role in various evolutionary models.”3

The director of paleontology, National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, is Dr. Meave G. Leakey. Many of the fossils housed there were found by her and her husband, Richard, and their teams of national workers. The fossils are kept in the Hominid Room, which has reinforced concrete walls and is designed to withstand conventional bomb blasts. Leakey and one other trusted museum staff member are the only ones who have keys to the room. Inside the room are locked boxes with hinged lids containing the fossils, which rest on form-fitted blocks of foam rubber.

Most of the South African fossils reside at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria. They are kept in a strong room known as the Red Cave because of the three-foot-thick walls that are painted red. This vault was originally designed to house valuable documents. The fossils rest on red velvet placed over foam-rubber lining.

The Homo erectus fossils from Java, some of the most important fossils in the world in determining models of human evolution, suffer from a similar problem at the hands of their curator, Teuku Jacob (Gadjah Mada University).

 

These fossils, the prized objects of Jacob’s collection, are rarely seen, even by professionals in the fossil-hunting business. Scholars with serious research programs have to apply to Jacob for permission even to see them, let alone touch them, for scientific study. And even those few who succeed in obtaining official permission have to wait for Jacob’s final OK, for he alone is permitted to remove the fossils from the safes.4

 

Jacob has an assistant, Angus, who is a trained anatomist. Yet even he is not allowed access to the vault where the fossils are kept. Nor is there any possibility that Angus would be allowed to study the fossils on his own or write a paper on them. Jacob maintains that there is a “committee” that determines access to the fossils. Veteran fossil hunters understand that Jacob himself is the committee.

Milford Wolpoff (University of Michigan) tells the story of the most complete, and one of the most important, Homo erectus skulls yet discovered, Sangiran 17. A long-standing feud between two Javanese investigators (he did not give names, but one of them almost certainly is Jacob), famous for guarding their fossils like jealous lovers, had kept the skull largely hidden from the paleontological community until Wolpoff discovered it in a laboratory in Java and assembled it.5

Why this incredible secrecy and security? Besides the element of raw power in controlling access, these fossils (certainly the human ones) are the remains of our ancestors. They are priceless treasures of human history. Their discovery has been the result of hard work, great expense, and often incredible luck. They are irreplaceable. How would one replace a fossil that has been lost or damaged beyond repair? Where would one go to find another just like it? Since in paleoanthropology and archaeology “quantity makes for quality” in the study of human variation, finding a similar fossil does not make up for the loss of the first one.

Furthermore, many of the fossils are extremely delicate. Sometimes their teeth will shatter at the slightest impact. Chunks of bone may flake off at the scratch of a fingernail. Some of the fossils are not completely fossilized, meaning that the organic material has not been completely replaced by inorganic minerals. Even the air in fossil rooms is maintained at a constant temperature and humidity to minimize contraction and expansion that could crack the fossils.

Unfortunately, some fossils have been lost, such as the original Peking Man fossils, lost in 1941 at the outbreak of World War II. Although we have plaster casts of them made by Franz Weidenreich, their loss is still keenly felt. Many other Homo erectus fossils (the present classification of Peking Man) have been subsequently discovered, but these new ones have not made up for the lost information on human variation in early populations that the original Peking Man fossils would have provided.

Because of their incalculable value and fragile nature, the original human fossils are so protected that the total number of people who have access to them is actually fewer than the total number of heads of state in the world today. However, there was one brief, glorious moment when this condition did not exist.

In 1984, the American Museum of Natural History in New York sponsored its famous Ancestors exhibit, in which more than forty of these original fossils were brought together for the first time ever for the public to view and for scholars to study. Obviously, security had top priority. Each fossil was accompanied by the curator of its home museum. Special agents met them at Kennedy International Airport and whisked them through a special section of customs without even opening the containers housing the fossils. Black Cadillac limousines with police escorts rushed them to the American Museum. When the fossils were put on public display, they were placed behind one-inch laminated acrylic panels in batter-proof, bulletproof, electronically monitored exhibit cases. Even work on the subway line under the museum was halted until after the exhibit to protect the fossils from vibration.

Although many nations, such as China, Australia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia (where Lucy is kept), refused to send their fossils and expose them to risk, the exhibit was considered a resounding success. For the very first time, scholars from all over the world were able to study the originals side by side. Half of a million people were able to view them. To everyone’s relief, nothing was broken. But, because of the high risk involved, most authorities predict that such a “family gathering” will never take place again.

If the risk to the fossils was so great, why was this “family gathering” held even once? The idea of having the world’s leading paleoanthropologists study these fossils was just an afterthought to the main purpose of allowing the public to view the original fossils. What situation could loom so large as to pry these fossils loose from the security of their shelters and expose them to public view? The answer: the rising threat of creationism!6

Eric Delson, John Van Couvering, and Ian Tattersall, American Museum scientists who were largely responsible for the Ancestors exhibit, admit that the creationist assault on evolutionary biology was a matter of “great and growing concern” at the museum. They go on to say that the primary purpose of the exhibit was to show people, lay and professional, the evidence for evolution. They refrained from making any kind of political statement regarding human evolution lest they “dignify” the challenge of “creation science.”7

Bernard Wood (George Washington University), writing in Nature, one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, states that the Ancestors exhibit was the response of the American Museum to creationist attempts to influence both public opinion and legislators in their “attack on the foundations of all scientific endeavor—namely reason and evidence.”8

It is obvious that, in spite of the decibels, communication is not taking place. The problem is not with the fossils. It is with the interpretation of the fossils. Delson makes this naive comment: “How can you be anti-evolution when you see so much tangible evidence of our own roots?”9Evolutionists apparently believe that all one has to do is look at the fossils to experience a “born-again” conversion to evolution. They seem oblivious to the fact that the human fossils can be arranged another way, a better way. To show that way is the purpose of this book.

 

PALEOANTHROPOLOGY

Anthropology is the Greek word for “the study of man.” Paleo means “old.” Paleoanthropology is the study of fossil humans. The term replaces the older term human paleontology.

 

Except for that one glorious moment in the summer of 1984, the original hominid fossils are not generally available for study, even by paleoanthropologists. In fact, Milford Wolpoff is said to have seen more of the original hominid fossil material than any other paleoanthropologist, although even he has not seen all of it. On the other hand, Ian Tattersall and Niles Eldredge (American Museum of Natural History), who have written extensively on the human fossil record, confess that up to the time of the exhibit they had seen only a fraction of the available material. They go on to say that it is not comforting to realize that many of the statements by others regarding human evolution “are similarly removed from the original data.”10 Even the Ancestors exhibit displayed only a tiny fraction of the total material that has been recovered.

One would assume that those who have the proper academic credentials and are able to travel to where the original fossils are housed would have access to them. However, this is not always the case. Science writer Roger Lewin quotes Donald Johanson, the discoverer of Lucy, as agreeing that sometimes “only those in the inner circle get to see the fossils; only those who agree with the particular interpretation of a particular investigator are allowed to see the fossils.”11

In the light of Johanson’s behavior, his complaint is a bit humorous. Paleoanthropologist Adrienne Zihlman (University of California, Santa Cruz) tells of writing to Johanson when he was at the Cleveland Natural History Museum and asking permission to see the fossils (including Lucy) that he had discovered in Ethiopia. He replied that he would grant permission only if he were allowed to review any article she might write before she sent it to a journal. She interpreted this as his insisting that he must approve it. Since she felt that this was a form of censorship, she declined. The result was that she didn’t get to study those fossils before they were sent back to Ethiopia, where they are permanently housed.12 Zihlman also suspects that there were times when she was denied access to fossil collections because she is a female worker in a male-dominated field.13

In spite of some obvious cases of injustice, I do not wish to imply that this lack of general access to the original fossil material is some sort of evolutionist plot. The problem rests with the basic nature of the material itself: its fragility and its irreplaceability. Most of the fossil material, especially the newer material, is housed in the particular country in which it was found. As ancestor remains, these fossils are national treasures of incredible value. In some countries, the protection of these fossils seems to be far more important than the study of them.

This lack of access, however, has important implications for the study of human origins. It means that paleoanthropology is in the strange situation of being a science in which most of its workers do not have access to the material upon which their science is based. They are at least one step removed from the objects of their study.

What, then, do they work with? They use reproductions made of plaster or some other material. This means that the authority of the statements paleontologists make regarding fossils depends on the quality of the casts with which they work. Obviously, one cannot make a universal statement about the general quality of these casts. That quality depends on the accuracy of the molds used, the type of material used, the care taken in making the casts, and other factors.

It is possible to have fossil reproductions that are of excellent quality. The Peking Man casts are said to be of such quality. C. Loring Brace (University of Michigan) tells the story of a tiny piece of new Peking Man cranial material that was found many years after the other originals were lost. This new piece fit perfectly into the space on the cast of the original from which the new piece had come.

The classic illustration that casts can be far from ideal is the account of the fraudulent Piltdown Man fossils. Piltdown Man was a combination of a late-model human cranium and a piece of the lower jaw of an orangutan. The teeth of the orangutan mandible had been filed down to make them look human and to match those in the upper jaw of the cranium. Louis Leakey, in his book Adam’s Ancestors, tells of several attempts to make a detailed study of the original Piltdown fossils. On each occasion when he visited the British Museum to do so, he was given the original fossils for just a few moments. They were then taken away, and he was given casts to work on. The file marks on the orangutan teeth were visible on the originals, but they were not visible on the casts.14

Given the unavailability of the originals, casts are the next best medium of study. Yet it is common knowledge that casts or reproductions, while giving a general impression of the original, often lack the detail of the original. Becky A. Sigmon (University of Toronto) says there is a general feeling among paleoanthropologists “that casts should not be used as resource material for a scientific paper.”15 However, there is another problem with the use of casts. Casts of only a small percentage of the total fossil material and less than half of the most important fossil material are available for study. This in itself is a serious situation. It would seem to place a degree of contingency on all conclusions reached in the study of human origins.

Descriptions of fossils in the scientific literature, although a poor substitute for casts, are probably the most common tools used in the study of the human fossil material. Since only the original fossils should be used in the writing of such papers, this would seem to place serious limitations on their preparation. Unfortunately, seldom do authors of such papers indicate what their sources were: the literature, casts, or the original fossil material. Milford Wolpoff, commenting on the value of the 1984 Ancestors exhibit, which allowed him and others to compare points of difference between fossils by seeing them side by side, says, “You can’t do that properly through the literature.”16

Perhaps the best example of the problem facing paleoanthropology is that many of the scholars who felt that casting technology was now able to provide copies as good as the originals, after studying the originals in the American Museum exhibit, admitted “that technology still has a long way to go.”17 The crowning blow came at the beginning of the public display. The precision mounts for the original fossils were carefully prepared based on casts supplied in advance. When the original fossils were placed in those mounts, most of them did not fit. No better illustration could be found showing that “casts are no substitute for originals.”18

The problem of very limited access to the fossil originals does not apply just to the fossils that have been a part of the evolutionist arsenal for many years. It applies even more to newly discovered fossils. This problem involves the time between the original discovery of a fossil or fossil assemblage and the time when the discoverer has made his full report to the scientific community about his determination of their age and classification. Let me illustrate with a specific example.

In December 1993, seventeen dental, cranial, and postcranial (body bones below the skull) fossils were discovered at Aramis, Middle Awash, Ethiopia, by a team lead by Tim White (University of California, Berkeley) and Berhane Asfaw (Ethiopian Ministry of Culture). The fossils were believed to represent a new australopithecine species. They were named Australopithecus ramidus and were described in the 22 September 1994 issue of Nature.19 However, in the 4 May 1995 issue of Nature, a notice appeared stating that this fossil material was considered different enough to be assigned to a new genus: Ardipithecus ramidus.20

The Ardipithecus ramidus fossils are housed in the National Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and have been under study by Berhane Asfaw and Tim White ever since their discovery. There is an unwritten law in paleoanthropology that those who discover fossils have broad control over their access until they are fully studied and described. Many nations, including Ethiopia, have also passed specific laws to that effect.

In 2000, Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz (University of Pittsburgh) requested permission to study and photograph the Ardipithecus ramidus fossils for an atlas of early human relatives they were preparing, similar to their earlier work, Extinct Humans. Their request was denied. In early 2002, they were finally granted email permission from an Ethiopian official to come to Addis Ababa and study and photograph the fossils. When Berhane Asfaw came to the Museum to work on the fossils and learned that Tattersall and Schwartz had been given permission to study them, he reminded the museum director of the Ethiopian law allowing discoverers of fossils to deny access to them.

Tattersall, sitting in the fossil room outside the locked safe, was livid. “What are you trying to hide?” Asfaw replied, “You don’t know how we suffered in the field to get these fossils. You have to give us a chance to study them first.”21 Attempts the next day were equally unsuccessful. Tattersall and Schwartz returned to the United States without even seeing the Ardipithecus ramidus fossils, let alone studying them. This was nine years after the fossils had first been discovered and eight years after they had been initially described in Nature.

As strange as this sounds, there are legitimate reasons for the law. It took three years of continuous excavation just to get all of the Ardipithecus ramidus fossils out of the ground because of their delicate nature. Fossil hunting involves laboring in some of the most unforgiving areas of the world. Hardships include disease, wild animals, military coups, heat, and long months spent away from family. Rewards include fame and (sometimes) fortune.

There are also very few fossil hunters compared to the many people who want to study fossils and publish about them. A longtime member of Richard and Meave Leakey’s teams, Alan Walker (Pennsylvania State University), tells about showing some people a brand-new hominid fossil he had just found. They asked him if they could write it up. “Why would you do all this to get robbed?” he asks.22

However, there is a way of getting access to new and important fossils: Find a new and important fossil yourself. Michel Brunet (University of Poitiers, France) is apparently the only person who has seen all of the earliest hominids, or at least seen casts of them. His passport is a very old fossil that he found in Chad. Since others want to see his fossil for comparison, they let him see theirs. It’s becoming a buddy system: “I’ll show you my fossil if you show me yours.”

John Fleagle (State University of New York, Stony Brook) has summed up the problem. “The big awkwardness right now is when someone announces they have found a specimen that overturns everything we know, but almost no one has seen it.”23

Since the original fossils are virtually beyond access even to most who teach and write in the field of paleoanthropology, and only a few of the fossils are available as reproductions, and reproductions are not recommended in the preparation of scientific papers, and those scientific papers themselves cannot adequately convey differences between fossils, the “science” of paleoanthropology seems to have a problem.

The myth in the minds of the public is that the human fossil material is readily available and is thoroughly studied by all who teach and write on the subject. The truth is that paleoanthropology is in the awkward position of being a science that is several steps removed from the very evidence upon which it claims to base its findings.

 

CHAPTER 1

“SHOW ME YOUR FOSSILS;
I’LL SHOW YOU MINE”

PEOPLE STARE. As they approach the table lined with human skulls, the mood is one of silence and incredible wonder. When someone finally dares to break the silence, I know instinctively what the question will be. I have heard it hundreds of times. “Are they real?”

When I inform the questioners that the skulls are plaster casts of original fossils, the mood changes to relief that they are not in the presence of death. However, even my assurance that the skulls are accurate and expensive casts of the original fossil material doesn’t restore the mystique that was obvious before the question was asked.

The very thought that a professor at a Christian college would possess thirty original human fossils reveals the magnitude of the misconception that exists in the mind of the public regarding these fossils. It represents the first myth about human evolution that I want to discuss.

Although I have visited most of the major natural history museums in the United States and some overseas, I have never seen an original human fossil. Neither have most of the anthropologists who teach human evolution in our universities. Neither have you. In fact, you may not have even seen a picture of an original fossil. What you thought were pictures of original fossils may have been pictures of reproductions.

No prisoner on death row is under greater security than those ancient relics called human fossils. Most of the original fossils are sequestered inside vaults of concrete or stone and accessible only through massive steel doors, the type you would expect to see at the First National Bank. Few can even see them—let alone study them.

This process of seclusion was true with the original 1856 Feldhofer Cave Neandertal. “The skull and the bones were Fuhlrott’s private property, and he did not show them to many. Only very few scholars in Britain and on the Continent had seen the skull or obtained a cast.” Even Rudolf Virchow, the greatest medical man of his time, “could only study the remains in Fuhlrott’s house after gaining access from his wife when Fuhlrott was away.”1 William King never saw the original fossils, although he is the one who, in naming them Homo neanderthalensis in 1864, declared them to represent a different species from modern humans. Darwin never saw these or any other fossil humans, although he published an entire book on human evolution in 1871. Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, never saw the original fossils either, although he described them in his famous 1863 work, Man’s Place in Nature.2 That should dispense with the concept that human evolution was based upon fossil evidence.

 

HOMINID

The word is used by the evolutionist community to mean “humans and their evolutionary ancestors.” It includes the genus Homo, the genus Australopithecus, and all creatures in the family Hominidae. As an evolutionist term it is meaningless in a creationist worldview. The creationist counterpart would include the terms humans and non-human primates. I use the term human in this book to refer to those who are descendants of the biblical Adam.

 

Germany built a two-story museum to celebrate the fossil skull known as Steinheim Man, discovered in 1933. Visitors, however, see only plastic replicas. The fossil itself is kept in a small safe several miles away. This safe is set into the thick stone wall of a 250-year-old military arsenal outside Stuttgart. The fossil’s former home was a bank vault. The story is told that when scientists came to study the fossil, they were blindfolded, driven to the bank, and unmasked only when safely inside so that they would not even know the location of the bank. “While it was never described in great detail, this fossil played a central role in various evolutionary models.”3

The director of paleontology, National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, is Dr. Meave G. Leakey. Many of the fossils housed there were found by her and her husband, Richard, and their teams of national workers. The fossils are kept in the Hominid Room, which has reinforced concrete walls and is designed to withstand conventional bomb blasts. Leakey and one other trusted museum staff member are the only ones who have keys to the room. Inside the room are locked boxes with hinged lids containing the fossils, which rest on form-fitted blocks of foam rubber.

Most of the South African fossils reside at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria. They are kept in a strong room known as the Red Cave because of the three-foot-thick walls that are painted red. This vault was originally designed to house valuable documents. The fossils rest on red velvet placed over foam-rubber lining.

The Homo erectus fossils from Java, some of the most important fossils in the world in determining models of human evolution, suffer from a similar problem at the hands of their curator, Teuku Jacob (Gadjah Mada University).

 

These fossils, the prized objects of Jacob’s collection, are rarely seen, even by professionals in the fossil-hunting business. Scholars with serious research programs have to apply to Jacob for permission even to see them, let alone touch them, for scientific study. And even those few who succeed in obtaining official permission have to wait for Jacob’s final OK, for he alone is permitted to remove the fossils from the safes.4

 

Jacob has an assistant, Angus, who is a trained anatomist. Yet even he is not allowed access to the vault where the fossils are kept. Nor is there any possibility that Angus would be allowed to study the fossils on his own or write a paper on them. Jacob maintains that there is a “committee” that determines access to the fossils. Veteran fossil hunters understand that Jacob himself is the committee.

Milford Wolpoff (University of Michigan) tells the story of the most complete, and one of the most important, Homo erectus skulls yet discovered, Sangiran 17. A long-standing feud between two Javanese investigators (he did not give names, but one of them almost certainly is Jacob), famous for guarding their fossils like jealous lovers, had kept the skull largely hidden from the paleontological community until Wolpoff discovered it in a laboratory in Java and assembled it.5

Why this incredible secrecy and security? Besides the element of raw power in controlling access, these fossils (certainly the human ones) are the remains of our ancestors. They are priceless treasures of human history. Their discovery has been the result of hard work, great expense, and often incredible luck. They are irreplaceable. How would one replace a fossil that has been lost or damaged beyond repair? Where would one go to find another just like it? Since in paleoanthropology and archaeology “quantity makes for quality” in the study of human variation, finding a similar fossil does not make up for the loss of the first one.

Furthermore, many of the fossils are extremely delicate. Sometimes their teeth will shatter at the slightest impact. Chunks of bone may flake off at the scratch of a fingernail. Some of the fossils are not completely fossilized, meaning that the organic material has not been completely replaced by inorganic minerals. Even the air in fossil rooms is maintained at a constant temperature and humidity to minimize contraction and expansion that could crack the fossils.

Unfortunately, some fossils have been lost, such as the original Peking Man fossils, lost in 1941 at the outbreak of World War II. Although we have plaster casts of them made by Franz Weidenreich, their loss is still keenly felt. Many other Homo erectus fossils (the present classification of Peking Man) have been subsequently discovered, but these new ones have not made up for the lost information on human variation in early populations that the original Peking Man fossils would have provided.

Because of their incalculable value and fragile nature, the original human fossils are so protected that the total number of people who have access to them is actually fewer than the total number of heads of state in the world today. However, there was one brief, glorious moment when this condition did not exist.

In 1984, the American Museum of Natural History in New York sponsored its famous Ancestors exhibit, in which more than forty of these original fossils were brought together for the first time ever for the public to view and for scholars to study. Obviously, security had top priority. Each fossil was accompanied by the curator of its home museum. Special agents met them at Kennedy International Airport and whisked them through a special section of customs without even opening the containers housing the fossils. Black Cadillac limousines with police escorts rushed them to the American Museum. When the fossils were put on public display, they were placed behind one-inch laminated acrylic panels in batter-proof, bulletproof, electronically monitored exhibit cases. Even work on the subway line under the museum was halted until after the exhibit to protect the fossils from vibration.

Although many nations, such as China, Australia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia (where Lucy is kept), refused to send their fossils and expose them to risk, the exhibit was considered a resounding success. For the very first time, scholars from all over the world were able to study the originals side by side. Half of a million people were able to view them. To everyone’s relief, nothing was broken. But, because of the high risk involved, most authorities predict that such a “family gathering” will never take place again.

If the risk to the fossils was so great, why was this “family gathering” held even once? The idea of having the world’s leading paleoanthropologists study these fossils was just an afterthought to the main purpose of allowing the public to view the original fossils. What situation could loom so large as to pry these fossils loose from the security of their shelters and expose them to public view? The answer: the rising threat of creationism!6

Eric Delson, John Van Couvering, and Ian Tattersall, American Museum scientists who were largely responsible for the Ancestors exhibit, admit that the creationist assault on evolutionary biology was a matter of “great and growing concern” at the museum. They go on to say that the primary purpose of the exhibit was to show people, lay and professional, the evidence for evolution. They refrained from making any kind of political statement regarding human evolution lest they “dignify” the challenge of “creation science.”7

Bernard Wood (George Washington University), writing in Nature, one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, states that the Ancestors exhibit was the response of the American Museum to creationist attempts to influence both public opinion and legislators in their “attack on the foundations of all scientific endeavor—namely reason and evidence.”8

It is obvious that, in spite of the decibels, communication is not taking place. The problem is not with the fossils. It is with the interpretation of the fossils. Delson makes this naive comment: “How can you be anti-evolution when you see so much tangible evidence of our own roots?”9Evolutionists apparently believe that all one has to do is look at the fossils to experience a “born-again” conversion to evolution. They seem oblivious to the fact that the human fossils can be arranged another way, a better way. To show that way is the purpose of this book.

 

PALEOANTHROPOLOGY

Anthropology is the Greek word for “the study of man.” Paleo means “old.” Paleoanthropology is the study of fossil humans. The term replaces the older term human paleontology.

 

Except for that one glorious moment in the summer of 1984, the original hominid fossils are not generally available for study, even by paleoanthropologists. In fact, Milford Wolpoff is said to have seen more of the original hominid fossil material than any other paleoanthropologist, although even he has not seen all of it. On the other hand, Ian Tattersall and Niles Eldredge (American Museum of Natural History), who have written extensively on the human fossil record, confess that up to the time of the exhibit they had seen only a fraction of the available material. They go on to say that it is not comforting to realize that many of the statements by others regarding human evolution “are similarly removed from the original data.”10 Even the Ancestors exhibit displayed only a tiny fraction of the total material that has been recovered.

One would assume that those who have the proper academic credentials and are able to travel to where the original fossils are housed would have access to them. However, this is not always the case. Science writer Roger Lewin quotes Donald Johanson, the discoverer of Lucy, as agreeing that sometimes “only those in the inner circle get to see the fossils; only those who agree with the particular interpretation of a particular investigator are allowed to see the fossils.”11

In the light of Johanson’s behavior, his complaint is a bit humorous. Paleoanthropologist Adrienne Zihlman (University of California, Santa Cruz) tells of writing to Johanson when he was at the Cleveland Natural History Museum and asking permission to see the fossils (including Lucy) that he had discovered in Ethiopia. He replied that he would grant permission only if he were allowed to review any article she might write before she sent it to a journal. She interpreted this as his insisting that he must approve it. Since she felt that this was a form of censorship, she declined. The result was that she didn’t get to study those fossils before they were sent back to Ethiopia, where they are permanently housed.12 Zihlman also suspects that there were times when she was denied access to fossil collections because she is a female worker in a male-dominated field.13

In spite of some obvious cases of injustice, I do not wish to imply that this lack of general access to the original fossil material is some sort of evolutionist plot. The problem rests with the basic nature of the material itself: its fragility and its irreplaceability. Most of the fossil material, especially the newer material, is housed in the particular country in which it was found. As ancestor remains, these fossils are national treasures of incredible value. In some countries, the protection of these fossils seems to be far more important than the study of them.

This lack of access, however, has important implications for the study of human origins. It means that paleoanthropology is in the strange situation of being a science in which most of its workers do not have access to the material upon which their science is based. They are at least one step removed from the objects of their study.

What, then, do they work with? They use reproductions made of plaster or some other material. This means that the authority of the statements paleontologists make regarding fossils depends on the quality of the casts with which they work. Obviously, one cannot make a universal statement about the general quality of these casts. That quality depends on the accuracy of the molds used, the type of material used, the care taken in making the casts, and other factors.

It is possible to have fossil reproductions that are of excellent quality. The Peking Man casts are said to be of such quality. C. Loring Brace (University of Michigan) tells the story of a tiny piece of new Peking Man cranial material that was found many years after the other originals were lost. This new piece fit perfectly into the space on the cast of the original from which the new piece had come.

The classic illustration that casts can be far from ideal is the account of the fraudulent Piltdown Man fossils. Piltdown Man was a combination of a late-model human cranium and a piece of the lower jaw of an orangutan. The teeth of the orangutan mandible had been filed down to make them look human and to match those in the upper jaw of the cranium. Louis Leakey, in his book Adam’s Ancestors, tells of several attempts to make a detailed study of the original Piltdown fossils. On each occasion when he visited the British Museum to do so, he was given the original fossils for just a few moments. They were then taken away, and he was given casts to work on. The file marks on the orangutan teeth were visible on the originals, but they were not visible on the casts.14

Given the unavailability of the originals, casts are the next best medium of study. Yet it is common knowledge that casts or reproductions, while giving a general impression of the original, often lack the detail of the original. Becky A. Sigmon (University of Toronto) says there is a general feeling among paleoanthropologists “that casts should not be used as resource material for a scientific paper.”15 However, there is another problem with the use of casts. Casts of only a small percentage of the total fossil material and less than half of the most important fossil material are available for study. This in itself is a serious situation. It would seem to place a degree of contingency on all conclusions reached in the study of human origins.

Descriptions of fossils in the scientific literature, although a poor substitute for casts, are probably the most common tools used in the study of the human fossil material. Since only the original fossils should be used in the writing of such papers, this would seem to place serious limitations on their preparation. Unfortunately, seldom do authors of such papers indicate what their sources were: the literature, casts, or the original fossil material. Milford Wolpoff, commenting on the value of the 1984 Ancestors exhibit, which allowed him and others to compare points of difference between fossils by seeing them side by side, says, “You can’t do that properly through the literature.”16

Perhaps the best example of the problem facing paleoanthropology is that many of the scholars who felt that casting technology was now able to provide copies as good as the originals, after studying the originals in the American Museum exhibit, admitted “that technology still has a long way to go.”17 The crowning blow came at the beginning of the public display. The precision mounts for the original fossils were carefully prepared based on casts supplied in advance. When the original fossils were placed in those mounts, most of them did not fit. No better illustration could be found showing that “casts are no substitute for originals.”18

The problem of very limited access to the fossil originals does not apply just to the fossils that have been a part of the evolutionist arsenal for many years. It applies even more to newly discovered fossils. This problem involves the time between the original discovery of a fossil or fossil assemblage and the time when the discoverer has made his full report to the scientific community about his determination of their age and classification. Let me illustrate with a specific example.

In December 1993, seventeen dental, cranial, and postcranial (body bones below the skull) fossils were discovered at Aramis, Middle Awash, Ethiopia, by a team lead by Tim White (University of California, Berkeley) and Berhane Asfaw (Ethiopian Ministry of Culture). The fossils were believed to represent a new australopithecine species. They were named Australopithecus ramidus and were described in the 22 September 1994 issue of Nature.19 However, in the 4 May 1995 issue of Nature, a notice appeared stating that this fossil material was considered different enough to be assigned to a new genus: Ardipithecus ramidus.20

The Ardipithecus ramidus fossils are housed in the National Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and have been under study by Berhane Asfaw and Tim White ever since their discovery. There is an unwritten law in paleoanthropology that those who discover fossils have broad control over their access until they are fully studied and described. Many nations, including Ethiopia, have also passed specific laws to that effect.

In 2000, Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz (University of Pittsburgh) requested permission to study and photograph the Ardipithecus ramidus fossils for an atlas of early human relatives they were preparing, similar to their earlier work, Extinct Humans. Their request was denied. In early 2002, they were finally granted email permission from an Ethiopian official to come to Addis Ababa and study and photograph the fossils. When Berhane Asfaw came to the Museum to work on the fossils and learned that Tattersall and Schwartz had been given permission to study them, he reminded the museum director of the Ethiopian law allowing discoverers of fossils to deny access to them.

Tattersall, sitting in the fossil room outside the locked safe, was livid. “What are you trying to hide?” Asfaw replied, “You don’t know how we suffered in the field to get these fossils. You have to give us a chance to study them first.”21 Attempts the next day were equally unsuccessful. Tattersall and Schwartz returned to the United States without even seeing the Ardipithecus ramidus fossils, let alone studying them. This was nine years after the fossils had first been discovered and eight years after they had been initially described in Nature.

As strange as this sounds, there are legitimate reasons for the law. It took three years of continuous excavation just to get all of the Ardipithecus ramidus fossils out of the ground because of their delicate nature. Fossil hunting involves laboring in some of the most unforgiving areas of the world. Hardships include disease, wild animals, military coups, heat, and long months spent away from family. Rewards include fame and (sometimes) fortune.

There are also very few fossil hunters compared to the many people who want to study fossils and publish about them. A longtime member of Richard and Meave Leakey’s teams, Alan Walker (Pennsylvania State University), tells about showing some people a brand-new hominid fossil he had just found. They asked him if they could write it up. “Why would you do all this to get robbed?” he asks.22

However, there is a way of getting access to new and important fossils: Find a new and important fossil yourself. Michel Brunet (University of Poitiers, France) is apparently the only person who has seen all of the earliest hominids, or at least seen casts of them. His passport is a very old fossil that he found in Chad. Since others want to see his fossil for comparison, they let him see theirs. It’s becoming a buddy system: “I’ll show you my fossil if you show me yours.”

John Fleagle (State University of New York, Stony Brook) has summed up the problem. “The big awkwardness right now is when someone announces they have found a specimen that overturns everything we know, but almost no one has seen it.”23

Since the original fossils are virtually beyond access even to most who teach and write in the field of paleoanthropology, and only a few of the fossils are available as reproductions, and reproductions are not recommended in the preparation of scientific papers, and those scientific papers themselves cannot adequately convey differences between fossils, the “science” of paleoanthropology seems to have a problem.

The myth in the minds of the public is that the human fossil material is readily available and is thoroughly studied by all who teach and write on the subject. The truth is that paleoanthropology is in the awkward position of being a science that is several steps removed from the very evidence upon which it claims to base its findings.

 

CHAPTER 1

“SHOW ME YOUR FOSSILS;
I’LL SHOW YOU MINE”

PEOPLE STARE. As they approach the table lined with human skulls, the mood is one of silence and incredible wonder. When someone finally dares to break the silence, I know instinctively what the question will be. I have heard it hundreds of times. “Are they real?”

When I inform the questioners that the skulls are plaster casts of original fossils, the mood changes to relief that they are not in the presence of death. However, even my assurance that the skulls are accurate and expensive casts of the original fossil material doesn’t restore the mystique that was obvious before the question was asked.

The very thought that a professor at a Christian college would possess thirty original human fossils reveals the magnitude of the misconception that exists in the mind of the public regarding these fossils. It represents the first myth about human evolution that I want to discuss.

Although I have visited most of the major natural history museums in the United States and some overseas, I have never seen an original human fossil. Neither have most of the anthropologists who teach human evolution in our universities. Neither have you. In fact, you may not have even seen a picture of an original fossil. What you thought were pictures of original fossils may have been pictures of reproductions.

No prisoner on death row is under greater security than those ancient relics called human fossils. Most of the original fossils are sequestered inside vaults of concrete or stone and accessible only through massive steel doors, the type you would expect to see at the First National Bank. Few can even see them—let alone study them.

This process of seclusion was true with the original 1856 Feldhofer Cave Neandertal. “The skull and the bones were Fuhlrott’s private property, and he did not show them to many. Only very few scholars in Britain and on the Continent had seen the skull or obtained a cast.” Even Rudolf Virchow, the greatest medical man of his time, “could only study the remains in Fuhlrott’s house after gaining access from his wife when Fuhlrott was away.”1 William King never saw the original fossils, although he is the one who, in naming them Homo neanderthalensis in 1864, declared them to represent a different species from modern humans. Darwin never saw these or any other fossil humans, although he published an entire book on human evolution in 1871. Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, never saw the original fossils either, although he described them in his famous 1863 work, Man’s Place in Nature.2 That should dispense with the concept that human evolution was based upon fossil evidence.

 

HOMINID

The word is used by the evolutionist community to mean “humans and their evolutionary ancestors.” It includes the genus Homo, the genus Australopithecus, and all creatures in the family Hominidae. As an evolutionist term it is meaningless in a creationist worldview. The creationist counterpart would include the terms humans and non-human primates. I use the term human in this book to refer to those who are descendants of the biblical Adam.

 

Germany built a two-story museum to celebrate the fossil skull known as Steinheim Man, discovered in 1933. Visitors, however, see only plastic replicas. The fossil itself is kept in a small safe several miles away. This safe is set into the thick stone wall of a 250-year-old military arsenal outside Stuttgart. The fossil’s former home was a bank vault. The story is told that when scientists came to study the fossil, they were blindfolded, driven to the bank, and unmasked only when safely inside so that they would not even know the location of the bank. “While it was never described in great detail, this fossil played a central role in various evolutionary models.”3

The director of paleontology, National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, is Dr. Meave G. Leakey. Many of the fossils housed there were found by her and her husband, Richard, and their teams of national workers. The fossils are kept in the Hominid Room, which has reinforced concrete walls and is designed to withstand conventional bomb blasts. Leakey and one other trusted museum staff member are the only ones who have keys to the room. Inside the room are locked boxes with hinged lids containing the fossils, which rest on form-fitted blocks of foam rubber.

Most of the South African fossils reside at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria. They are kept in a strong room known as the Red Cave because of the three-foot-thick walls that are painted red. This vault was originally designed to house valuable documents. The fossils rest on red velvet placed over foam-rubber lining.

The Homo erectus fossils from Java, some of the most important fossils in the world in determining models of human evolution, suffer from a similar problem at the hands of their curator, Teuku Jacob (Gadjah Mada University).

 

These fossils, the prized objects of Jacob’s collection, are rarely seen, even by professionals in the fossil-hunting business. Scholars with serious research programs have to apply to Jacob for permission even to see them, let alone touch them, for scientific study. And even those few who succeed in obtaining official permission have to wait for Jacob’s final OK, for he alone is permitted to remove the fossils from the safes.4

 

Jacob has an assistant, Angus, who is a trained anatomist. Yet even he is not allowed access to the vault where the fossils are kept. Nor is there any possibility that Angus would be allowed to study the fossils on his own or write a paper on them. Jacob maintains that there is a “committee” that determines access to the fossils. Veteran fossil hunters understand that Jacob himself is the committee.

Milford Wolpoff (University of Michigan) tells the story of the most complete, and one of the most important, Homo erectus skulls yet discovered, Sangiran 17. A long-standing feud between two Javanese investigators (he did not give names, but one of them almost certainly is Jacob), famous for guarding their fossils like jealous lovers, had kept the skull largely hidden from the paleontological community until Wolpoff discovered it in a laboratory in Java and assembled it.5

Why this incredible secrecy and security? Besides the element of raw power in controlling access, these fossils (certainly the human ones) are the remains of our ancestors. They are priceless treasures of human history. Their discovery has been the result of hard work, great expense, and often incredible luck. They are irreplaceable. How would one replace a fossil that has been lost or damaged beyond repair? Where would one go to find another just like it? Since in paleoanthropology and archaeology “quantity makes for quality” in the study of human variation, finding a similar fossil does not make up for the loss of the first one.

Furthermore, many of the fossils are extremely delicate. Sometimes their teeth will shatter at the slightest impact. Chunks of bone may flake off at the scratch of a fingernail. Some of the fossils are not completely fossilized, meaning that the organic material has not been completely replaced by inorganic minerals. Even the air in fossil rooms is maintained at a constant temperature and humidity to minimize contraction and expansion that could crack the fossils.

Unfortunately, some fossils have been lost, such as the original Peking Man fossils, lost in 1941 at the outbreak of World War II. Although we have plaster casts of them made by Franz Weidenreich, their loss is still keenly felt. Many other Homo erectus fossils (the present classification of Peking Man) have been subsequently discovered, but these new ones have not made up for the lost information on human variation in early populations that the original Peking Man fossils would have provided.

Because of their incalculable value and fragile nature, the original human fossils are so protected that the total number of people who have access to them is actually fewer than the total number of heads of state in the world today. However, there was one brief, glorious moment when this condition did not exist.

In 1984, the American Museum of Natural History in New York sponsored its famous Ancestors exhibit, in which more than forty of these original fossils were brought together for the first time ever for the public to view and for scholars to study. Obviously, security had top priority. Each fossil was accompanied by the curator of its home museum. Special agents met them at Kennedy International Airport and whisked them through a special section of customs without even opening the containers housing the fossils. Black Cadillac limousines with police escorts rushed them to the American Museum. When the fossils were put on public display, they were placed behind one-inch laminated acrylic panels in batter-proof, bulletproof, electronically monitored exhibit cases. Even work on the subway line under the museum was halted until after the exhibit to protect the fossils from vibration.

Although many nations, such as China, Australia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia (where Lucy is kept), refused to send their fossils and expose them to risk, the exhibit was considered a resounding success. For the very first time, scholars from all over the world were able to study the originals side by side. Half of a million people were able to view them. To everyone’s relief, nothing was broken. But, because of the high risk involved, most authorities predict that such a “family gathering” will never take place again.

If the risk to the fossils was so great, why was this “family gathering” held even once? The idea of having the world’s leading paleoanthropologists study these fossils was just an afterthought to the main purpose of allowing the public to view the original fossils. What situation could loom so large as to pry these fossils loose from the security of their shelters and expose them to public view? The answer: the rising threat of creationism!6

Eric Delson, John Van Couvering, and Ian Tattersall, American Museum scientists who were largely responsible for the Ancestors exhibit, admit that the creationist assault on evolutionary biology was a matter of “great and growing concern” at the museum. They go on to say that the primary purpose of the exhibit was to show people, lay and professional, the evidence for evolution. They refrained from making any kind of political statement regarding human evolution lest they “dignify” the challenge of “creation science.”7

Bernard Wood (George Washington University), writing in Nature, one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, states that the Ancestors exhibit was the response of the American Museum to creationist attempts to influence both public opinion and legislators in their “attack on the foundations of all scientific endeavor—namely reason and evidence.”8

It is obvious that, in spite of the decibels, communication is not taking place. The problem is not with the fossils. It is with the interpretation of the fossils. Delson makes this naive comment: “How can you be anti-evolution when you see so much tangible evidence of our own roots?”9Evolutionists apparently believe that all one has to do is look at the fossils to experience a “born-again” conversion to evolution. They seem oblivious to the fact that the human fossils can be arranged another way, a better way. To show that way is the purpose of this book.

 

PALEOANTHROPOLOGY

Anthropology is the Greek word for “the study of man.” Paleo means “old.” Paleoanthropology is the study of fossil humans. The term replaces the older term human paleontology.

 

Except for that one glorious moment in the summer of 1984, the original hominid fossils are not generally available for study, even by paleoanthropologists. In fact, Milford Wolpoff is said to have seen more of the original hominid fossil material than any other paleoanthropologist, although even he has not seen all of it. On the other hand, Ian Tattersall and Niles Eldredge (American Museum of Natural History), who have written extensively on the human fossil record, confess that up to the time of the exhibit they had seen only a fraction of the available material. They go on to say that it is not comforting to realize that many of the statements by others regarding human evolution “are similarly removed from the original data.”10 Even the Ancestors exhibit displayed only a tiny fraction of the total material that has been recovered.

One would assume that those who have the proper academic credentials and are able to travel to where the original fossils are housed would have access to them. However, this is not always the case. Science writer Roger Lewin quotes Donald Johanson, the discoverer of Lucy, as agreeing that sometimes “only those in the inner circle get to see the fossils; only those who agree with the particular interpretation of a particular investigator are allowed to see the fossils.”11

In the light of Johanson’s behavior, his complaint is a bit humorous. Paleoanthropologist Adrienne Zihlman (University of California, Santa Cruz) tells of writing to Johanson when he was at the Cleveland Natural History Museum and asking permission to see the fossils (including Lucy) that he had discovered in Ethiopia. He replied that he would grant permission only if he were allowed to review any article she might write before she sent it to a journal. She interpreted this as his insisting that he must approve it. Since she felt that this was a form of censorship, she declined. The result was that she didn’t get to study those fossils before they were sent back to Ethiopia, where they are permanently housed.12 Zihlman also suspects that there were times when she was denied access to fossil collections because she is a female worker in a male-dominated field.13

In spite of some obvious cases of injustice, I do not wish to imply that this lack of general access to the original fossil material is some sort of evolutionist plot. The problem rests with the basic nature of the material itself: its fragility and its irreplaceability. Most of the fossil material, especially the newer material, is housed in the particular country in which it was found. As ancestor remains, these fossils are national treasures of incredible value. In some countries, the protection of these fossils seems to be far more important than the study of them.

This lack of access, however, has important implications for the study of human origins. It means that paleoanthropology is in the strange situation of being a science in which most of its workers do not have access to the material upon which their science is based. They are at least one step removed from the objects of their study.

What, then, do they work with? They use reproductions made of plaster or some other material. This means that the authority of the statements paleontologists make regarding fossils depends on the quality of the casts with which they work. Obviously, one cannot make a universal statement about the general quality of these casts. That quality depends on the accuracy of the molds used, the type of material used, the care taken in making the casts, and other factors.

It is possible to have fossil reproductions that are of excellent quality. The Peking Man casts are