Sunday, April 18, 2010

Early Man - The Fossil Record

[The following is a repost from 2007. My son was asking me some questions about human evolution, and this post came to mind.]

[Better view of the chart here.]

I count a total of approx. 1,140 individuals represented in the hominid fossil record. The chart provides the hypothesized lines of human evolution from 5 million years ago to the present. So over a period of 5 million years, we have 1,140 examples of early man. Stunning [please note the sarcasm].

The site also provides this information:

Hominid fossil remains are precious. Complete skeletons are extraordinarily rare before recent times. Teeth and lower jaws, and the facial and upper cranial bones of the skull, are the most common fossils to survive from any period. Skulls are almost never found intact but must be reconstructed from fragments. Thigh bones are next most often retrieved, while remains of the feet, hands, pelvis or spine are extremely rare.

In other words, most of the "individuals" on the list are represented by skull fragments or a few bones, and in worse case scenarios a few teeth.

You can visit Talkorigins to take a gander at the list of the most "Prominent Hominid Fossils" that have been discovered. Read it carefully to get a feel for the type of bone fragments these discoveries are based upon.

Also consider the hoaxes or errors made when paleoanthropologists have become a bit eager to make a monumental find:

Piltdown Man
Nebraska Man
Homo Habilis
The Misconception about Homo rudolfensis
Homo erectus
Neanderthals: Their Anatomy and Culture
Leakey and his transitionals
Israeli researchers: 'Lucy' is not direct ancestor of humans

Here's a picture of 'Lucy' and Donald Johanson:

Lucy is one of the most complete fossil finds we have that supposedly tells a story about our ancient ancestors. Unfortunately, from the article linked above, we are told that Lucy has lost her status as one of our direct ancestors.

Personally, it appears to me that there is next to no evidence that these bone fragments provide any proof whatsoever that the fossil record supports the assumption of ape to man transitionals.

Consider the range of human variability in the world today. We obviously have a variety of characteristics that make us simliar but different. But, does human variability support the notion of common descent? Do the skull fragments that have been pieced together portray a transition between ape and man, or do the fossil finds merely belong to either a particular species of ape or a human rather than a "missing link"? Below are examples of *real* people that portray vast differences in human characteristics. If their remaining fossils are discovered thousands of years from now, do you think scientists might incorrectly consider them transitional forms or missing links?

Obviously, most of the information we gather in regard to early man is based on speculation and assumption as written history is virtually non-existent until approx. 7BC.

Talkorigins mentions that...
One sometimes reads that all hominid fossils could fit in a coffin, or on a table, or a billiard table. That is a misleading image, as there are now thousands of hominid fossils. They are however mostly fragmentary, often consisting of single bones or isolated teeth. Complete skulls and skeletons are rare.

Hmmmm....maybe we'd need two coffins? hehe. Considering the fact that most of the fragments are very small, I think that might be a safe bet.

I'll end my post with this quote from Gereth Nelson (Wall Street Journal Dec. 9, 1986):

We've got to have some ancestors. We'll pick those. Why? Because we know they have to be there, and these are the best candidates. That's by and large the way it has worked. I am not exaggerating.