In this post we will begin to discuss some of the evidence for prehistoric Man. By this we will mean to take into account the fossil evidence for the various species of that genus more advanced than the Australopithecus line. These are what we have come to call “cave men” and are meant to show that (macro) Evolution is correct, and that we, Homo sapiens sapiens, have descendants that are not quite human.
This picture above is one of several extant of a man called “Bassou,” who was said to live in the trees, eat fruits and nuts there, and only clothe himself when photo ops arose. Local legend had it that he was the offspring of a human and an ape. Most likely, he was merely mentally retarded, and physically deformed, one of many thousands of examples of similarly-stricken people today. Bassou was dead by 1970 when researchers went to “check on him” again, his importance for us lies in the fact that his physique and skull is evidence that humans existing today still vary tremendously in body build and skull structure. Bassou’s arms were almost twice the size of a normal man.
Another example along the same lines is Otzi, a 5000+ year-old mummy unearthed in Italy a few years ago. Although he is indisputable proof (if we buy the dating…) that this region of Italy was not only inhabited, but thriving enough to preserve deceased human remains somewhere around 3000 BC, more relevant to our present discussion is that in every instance Otzi is as human as we are today. In these 5000 years, not much change as taken place in the general structure of Homo sapiens, (viz. microevolution), and certainly Man was already well-established on Earth. While this in itself, because of the comparatively recent date, does not refute macroevolution, Otzi nevertheless attests to the fact that humans, as far as we yet know, have always been humans.
So for the rest of this post we will look at the evidence for prehistoric men which, being old school in these regards, I will refer to in later posts as cavemen. I should also note that I am skipping the paranthropus line, which supposedly deviated from the Homo descent tree, and which, in any case, should be classified with Australopithecus, which we have already surveyed in earlier posts.
Having said this, let’s do a little “movin’ on up”; with stomach-in, chest-out, jaw receding, and brain developing (we hope…), let us look at what are said to be our truest relatives, and see if thereby we might find yet the Origin of Man.
Homo rudolfensis is sometimes considered to be the first true human ancestor. At other times, this “Rudolf” is considered simply another Australopithecus specimen. The unsurety of classification of this animal, reflective of similar unsureties regarding previous fossils we have discussed, is shown by the fact that its discoverers (the Leakeys, among them…) gave it this name in 1972 but later on (1986) it was was renamed, to Pithecanthropus rudolfensis. As time goes on, it seems to me, this species will eventually be called Australopithecus rudolfensis. We will, however, treat it for the time being as a great-granddaddy of ours.
The fossil record for Rudolf is minuscule considering its origins being comparatively recent to other types of Australopithecus. Our earlier chart says there are fossils extant from five individuals. Complicating matters further is that while some scientists today want to say that these are fossils of Australopithecines, as we have said, some other scientists consider Rudolf an example of Homo habilis.
When a debate like this continues to rage, that means there is indecision, and that to me means, maybe us laymen can step in and see what we can figure out. What good is the training, when the argument never goes beyond “I said Australopithecus and you said Habilis”? Does anybody bother to say maybe “It’s a chimp!”? You would think maybe ONE published scientist would just, oh, hazard so “wild” a guess. Note that this debate, and those similar, is accepted in the literature—indeed, as good science—because it does not deviate from the party line, the talking point of the day, the news maker that keeps the spirit of this science, this Evolution, alive.
Keeping the faith nonetheless, let’s see what more actual physical evidence we have from these five individuals, other than the skull we have just seen:
Above a partial cranium and some teeth. Below, a jaw, with teeth.
This evidence simply does not give us enough to buy it as an ancestor, or even a separate species. Good epistemological shoppers should keep their wallets sheathed and wait for a better deal. Oh, it’s not that the salesmanship in trying to move this product is not present. Why, just have a gander at the reconstructions of Rudolf’s kind, based on merely the above evidence. Look anything like Bassou?
Ecce Homo? Is This Man?
It is indeed amazing what we can do with the slightest evidence. Even the skull, our first photo of the fossils above, was put together from hundreds of pieces. We opened last post with a photo of the exact puzzle involved. But this is just the beginning of the pseudo-scientific speculation. Remember the whales we looked at several chapters ago? Try to imagine how difficult it would be to determine what a face would look like, based on the evidence of bone alone:
The folks over at Omniology.com, we should admit, are right on top of things here again, and I thank them for this image. This is a Neanderthal skull, which we will get to soon, but the illustration of the process involved shows how varied a re-creation could be given for the same fossil skull. We can not be sure of how the head sits on the neck, given the absence of upper vertebrae. While we can guess, we cannot know how the neck extends from the torso. If we had the neck, we still have the additional impasse of trying to elaborate correctly the sinewy material, the muscle, fat, tendons, and ligaments which would go around that spinal column and form the shoulder area. There is too much variance, and too much room for error.
But back to Rudolf, I think we are safe in waving it off as a random Australopithecine, and so another ape. To say it is even Homo habilis would be stretching the evidence unjustifiably. Also before we get to the “tool-making man,” and so to what science calls the REAL remotest ancestor of Man, let’s stay with the Australopithecus line to complain about one more aspect of the archaeological methods used to bring us these fossils. Let’s use our old friend Lucy as an example, and let the provocative Omniology Society explain the situation:
It doesn’t seem appropriate for scientists to assemble parts of several individuals into one, especially to thereby establish a new species, let alone a human link. It does not seem right for scientists to make exceptions to stratigraphic data. It doesn’t sit well with me that evidence is fabricated, defended with more fabrication and confusion. I don’t like that I am offered hopeful monsters reconstructions, in attempt to convince, or rather force-feed me, this theory of human Evolution.
The metaphor “Grasping at straws” is increasingly coming to mind.
Let’s stop here, think a while, maybe cool down, and save Homo Habilis for next time.