Sunday, 27 January 2008

Cavemen were smarter than we thought

T.H. Huxley's incorrect view on man's evolution. Image: Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

Science textbooks usually present cavemen as very primitive people who were barely able to utter a few monosyllables. However, as additional data about stone age men is unearthed, the picture becomes considerably more complex. It seems that the more we know about them, the more modern traits they seem to acquire.

A recent study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests that cave dwellers wore shoes. Erik Trinkaus and Hong Shang of the Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri studied the toe bones of a skeleton found in a cave near Beijing. They compared these with the toe bones of modern Americans, Inuits and Native Americans from the time before the advent of the European conquerors. Shoes alter the wearer’s toes. People who regularly walk barefoot tend to have strong and large toes while those wearing shoes do not. Trinkaus and Shang concluded that the Chinese cave dwellers regularly wore shoes.

The obvious conclusion is that cavemen were less primitive than we had thought. This same trend can also be seen in how Neanderthal man is presented. The first skulls were found in the early 19th century but they got their name from a specimen discovered in 1856 in the Neander Valley in Germany.(Tal is valley in German). They were initially described as virtually subhuman missing links. With the passing of time, however, scientist have had to discard their previous notions about them. It is now known that the Neanderthals made musical instruments and efficient weapons, buried their dead and even used toothpicks.

It thus seems that the neat progress from primitive to modern man does not exist. The cave dwellers were not primitive people.

I recently wrote about people still living in caves. You can read it here .

Source: 27.1.2008.

Lucy: Ex-Grandmother on Tour

The old lady's remains on display

Joel Kontinen

In 1974 Donald Johanson’s team found the bones of an extinct hominid in the Afar region in Ethiopia. The same night John Lennon and Paul McCarthy’s song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was played in their camp, giving the name for the find. In a LiveScience column, Cornell University anthropologist Meredith F. Small calls Lucy the crown jewel of ancient full skeletons.

Small’s characterisation is an exaggeration. Actually, only 40 per cent of the bones of the skeleton were found but Lucy is still by far the most famous specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, which has been proposed as a link between apes and the genus Homo. In other words, Lucy has been characterised as our grandmother.

Lucy’s bones have been kept in Ethiopia but now they are on a long tour of the United States. The tour might have something to do with the lively and occasionally fierce origins debate that shows no signs of abating. For the past 34 years Lucy has been used as a poster girl for evolution to bolster up the view that apes and humans have a common ancestor.

When a new fossil known as the Lucy child, i.e. the almost complete skeleton of a three-year old Australopithecus afarensis, was unveiled in Dikika, Ethiopia, in 2006, the popular press and science journals advertised it as a human ancestor. However, an in-depth study revealed that it was more gorilla-like than supposed and the hyoid bone that is associated with the capacity for speaking resembles that of a chimpanzee. And chimpanzees are not known for their oratory skills.

Last year brought some more bad news for Lucy’s status as our supposed grandmother. Professor Yoel Rak and colleagues at Tel Aviv University in Israel published a study in the online edition of PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They compared the mandibles or lower jaw bones of gorillas, chimpanzees and modern humans and reported that since the bones of apes are morphologically almost identical to those in both Australopithecus robustus and Australopithecus afarensis but different in modern humans, this casts doubt on the view that regards Lucy as an ancestor of Homo sapiens.

Lucy’s American tour will no doubt continue but it should probably have to include a warning that the old lady is not a human ancestor.

Please read the previous post for more on Lucy.


Small, Meredith F. 2007. Lucy on Tour: See Evolution's Biggest Bones of Contention

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Lucy: "But Grandmother! What big feet you have"

Joel Kontinen

“Mom, look at those tiny dolphins.” A little girl had just left the dolphinarium and was staring at small tropical fish in an aquarium. Having looked at dolphins for the past hour or so she naturally assumed that the small creatures that were swimming around in the water were also dolphins.

Very often our presuppositions determine what we think we see. As adults, our presuppositions are often based on our worldview. Thus, throughout the world natural history museums present our supposed foremother Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) as having big feet although the toe bones have never been found and Lucy’s arms are clearly of the curved kind we associate with monkeys. They are well suited for hanging from trees but cannot be used for typing, for instance.

The National History Museum in London also presents Lucy as a roughly one meter (three feet) tall, big-footed ancestress of Homo sapiens. Why is this so? No one has found a better candidate and the famous Laetoli footprints of Tanzania are much larger than the typical small prints a monkey would leave. But they have been dated appoximately as old (about 3.2 million years) as Lucy.

We should perhaps congratulate the evolutionists for their brilliant logic: since the representatives of the Homo family had not yet evolved and since the footprints show without a shadow of doubt that three creatures walked on two feet some three million years ago, Lucy must have had big feet.

Radiometric dating methods are supposed to be reliable but few non-geologists are aware of the assumptions that lie behind each method. The methods are reliable only if three conditions are met:
1 Nothing except radioactive decay has altered the amount of parent isotopes (the original radioactive elements) and daughter isotopes (elements produced by the radioactive decay of other elements).
2 When the rock was formed, it contained a known amount of daughter isotopes (assumed to be zero).
3 The decay rate has always been constant.

Scientists can actually never be sure of any of these conditions. Professor Marvin Lubenow gives an interesting insight into the reliability of dating methods in his book Bones of Contention. In 1969 Richard Leakey discovered the skull known as KNM-ER 1470 (KNM stands for Kenya National Museum, where it is displayed, ER is East Rudolf, the region where it was found, and 1470 is the museum’s acqusition number). The skull has many similarities with modern man but it was dated at 2.9 million years. The find was fiercely debated in the prestigious journal Nature for ten years, during which its age decreased by a million years.

Could it be possible that presuppositions have led us astray in Lucy’s case, also? We might need a little girl to say, "But Grandmother! What big feet you have!" And perhaps the girl might also wonder why Grandmother looks much younger that she should.


Lubenow, Marvin L. 1992. Bones of Contention. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

You can read more about Lucy here. and here.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

The Violence in Kenya: Cry, The Beloved Country

Joel Kontinen

Cry, The Beloved Country, Alan Paton’s touching description of the woes of South Africa was published in 1948. The novel recounts the story of Reverend Stephen Kumalo’s search for his sister Gertrude and son Absalom who like the New Testament’s prodigal son had left their home in search of a better life but had drifted into bad company in Johannesburg.

If we had good reasons to cry for South Africa in the apartheid era, now is the time to cry for another beloved country. Kenya has been endowed with an amazing variety of natural beauty, all from the snows of Mt. Kenya and the dizzying scenery of the Rift Valley with its escarpments and flamingo lakes, to the arid semi-deserts of the Turkana area in the north made familiar by the Born Free films about a lion called Elsa, and the palm beaches and reefs of the Indian Ocean.

While poaching has cut the numbers of elephants and rhinos roaming the savannahs to a fraction of what it was in the days of Ernest Hemingway and other big bwanas who came to test their courage on lion hunts, there is still plenty to see.

However, like South Africa, Kenya has also had more than her fair share of woes. In the early 1950s news of the uprising and bloodshed known as the Mau Mau revolt sprang up in headlines all over the world. The years since independence in 1963 have witnessed countless tragedies, including the assassinations of several prominent politicians, e.g. that of Tom Mboya in 1969 and Josiah Mwangi Kariuki in 1975.

Already during Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency (1963-1978) critics such as the leading Luo politician and one-time vice-president Oginga Odinga, the father of the current opposition leader Raila Odinga, and the novelist Ngugu wa Thiong’o, were kept under house arrest. Kenyatta's successor Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002) was also reluctant to tolerate criticism of his rule. Mwai Kibaki, president since 2002, campaigned to end the corruption and cronyism of his predecessors but failed to do so.

Throughout the years since independence in 1963, there has been an enormous gap between the rich with their walled luxury homes and security guards and the poor living in mud or tin shacks, who have to do with a daily diet of ugali or maize porridge and cabbage known as sukumawiki (“push the week”). The opposition leader Oginga Odinga even wrote a book entitled Not Yet Uhuru. In his view, only the privileged class had Uhuru or freedom. J. M. Kariuki quipped that Kenya was a country with ten millionaires and ten million beggars. A new concept was introduced into everyday usage, the wabenzi, or those who drive Mercedes Benz cars. The shack dwellers have with good reason tended to look for a Moses who would lead them to freedom. However, time and again their hopes have been crushed, and unrest has been a more or less regular ingredient for many decades.

Not surprisingly, Kenya has seen a couple of coup attempts, the latest against Daniel arap Moi’s regime in 1982, and much more unrest coupled with rumours of conspiracies. Clashes over cattle in northern Kenya have occasionally been bloody and in 1998 Al-Qaida bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, killing mostly Kenyans. Add to this widespread corruption and the AIDs epidemic that has lefts hundreds of thousands of orphans in its wake, with daily newspapers carrying several pages of obituaries of young people, tribal clashes and rumours, and there are more than enough reasons for getting a tissue wet.

While it might not be difficult to find psychological reasons for the spate of recent violence in Kenya, the underlying causes are probably elsewhere. Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) compared human life to an onion. We have to peel it one layer at a time, and cry in between. In Kenya, the Kikuyus have traditionally been suspicious of the Luos and the Luos of the Kikuyus. Nonetheless, finding the basic reason of the unrest might be as difficult as ascertaining what really caused the Holocaust.

We might find a hint of the underlying reason for the recent violence in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Man’s decision to disobey his Creator brought havoc to a perfect world, eventually causing the entire creation to groan in pain. This is what we are observing when we see churches burning with refugees still hiding inside or police shooting demonstrators with live ammunition.

So please cry for Kenya, the beloved country. And don’t forget to pray for the violence to end.

This violence illustrates the consequences of the Fall. Read more here.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Is there panic in the air?

Alvim Correa's image in a 1906 French translation of War of the Worlds. Wikipedia

As Featured On Ezine Articles

Joel Kontinen

The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel about a Martian invasion of Earth. Originally written by George Herbert Wells in 1898, it was later adapted by Orson Welles and broadcast as a radio drama.

The program was aired on October 30, 1938. It had been an eventful year, with the Anschluss of Austria still fresh on people’s mind. The drama consisted of news bulletins, starting with a strange flash on Mars and progressing to a Martian landing and a devastating war.

Many listeners were carried away by what they heard. The October 31 New York Times reported panic on the streets. While the media probably exaggerated the outcome of the drama, it differed considerably from the average Sunday picnic.

H. G. Wells (1866-1946) was an ardent evolutionist who believed that the Darwinian great story was fact and that end of human evolution was still nowhere in sight. The Time Machine (1895) discloses his views about ongoing human evolution. Like many contemporary Darwinists, he thought eugenics was the way to stop the degeneration of the human race.

It seems that today’s Darwinists have also found a formula for stopping another form of degeneration – that of science itself.

Once again, there seems to be a panic of sorts in the air. Evolutionists have resorted to law suits and intimidation to silence dissidents because they believe that doubting Darwin will mean the end of all scientific progress. The Council of Europe goes even further. It believes creationism is a threat to human rights. It is probably needless to add that to the Darwinist, “creationism” is a catchword that includes all forms of dissent from Darwin.

Recently, the science journal Nature joined the fray, calling for more Darwinian education to stop the design pollution.

So, the question is: might there be some panic in the air?

Read an updated illustration of this panic here.