Tuesday, 16 September 2014
Human Evolution Is a Hard Puzzle, Anthropologist Says
Bernard Wood has an interesting article in September’s Scientific American. He seems to suggest that each new discovery makes it even more difficult to decipher our past history.
Both the title (The Latest Fossil Finds Make the Puzzle of Human Evolution Harder Than Ever to Solve) and the subtitle (The latest molecular analyses and fossil finds suggest that the story of human evolution is far more complex—and more interesting—than anyone imagined) suggest that he does not regard human origins as a very exact science.
In a field characterised by fragments of old bones, it is difficult to make far-reaching conclusions. Fossils don’t speak for themselves. The evidence has to be interpreted.
Misinterpretations are not unheard of.
Wood discusses the discoveries made by Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
In 2010 Science published a report on bones found in a cave in Malapa, South Africa. They made headlines around the world. Berger became a household name, and Australopithecus sediba joined the “hominid” family.
Later, however, critical researchers took Au. sediba down a notch or two (or perhaps five), and more recent evaluations have hardly been favourable to the find.
It seems that the basic problem with (assumed) human evolution is that it relies more on worldview than on evidence. In other words, the tail wags the dog instead of the dog doing something with his tail.
Wood, Bernard. 2014. The Latest Fossil Finds Make the Puzzle of Human Evolution Harder Than Ever to Solve. Scientific American 311(3) (September 2014).