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The Human Fossil Record, Part 10b: Homo erectus in Asia, Cont’d

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July 29, 2012 Tags: Human Origins

Today's entry was written by James Kidder. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: Yesterday and today, Dr. James Kidder continues to tell the story of the evolution of creatures on our own small branch of the primate family tree, the hominins. Kidder’s previous post in the series looked at fossil evidence helping anthropologists answer the question, “When did our ancestors first start exploring beyond the African continent?” and focused on sites in Europe and the Middle East. Here Kidder turns our attention east and describes the discovery Homo erectus.


In yesterday’s post, I discussed Eugene Dubois’ 1891 discovery of Homo erectus in Java, and some of the subsequent discoveries of other remains throughout Southeast Asia and into China. Today, we’ll look at the Zhoukoudian site, which contains perhaps the largest Homo erectus cache of fossils in existence at any one site. Not only did the caves provide a remarkable number of remains, it also provided one of the greatest mysteries of paleoanthropology.

Davidson Black

In the late 1920s, vertebrate paleontologist Davidson Black, who was working at the Cenozoic Research Laboratory, began an excavation in the hills outside what was then known as Peking (now Beijing). Local townsfolk had brought Black bones to him that they claimed were those of “dragons.” These turned out to be extinct fauna. Quickly, Black discovered some hominin mandibles, some cranial fragments and one complete calvaria. He named the new species Sinanthropus pekinensis, or Chinese man from Peking. Black continued the excavations until his death in 1934, whereupon Franz Weidenreich was brought in. A trained anatomist who had just finished up a visiting professorship at the University of Chicago, Weidenreich found an additional five complete calvaria as well as several partial crania and fragments. He immediately recognized similarities between what Dubois had unearthed and what was being found at Peking: individuals with long, low crania, large brow ridges and large faces.

Weidenreich continued to excavate through the mid-1930s, but in 1937 the Japanese invaded the north part of the country and many Chinese fled south to escape the oncoming armies. Sensing that the trouble would eventually reach Peking, Weidenreich readied all of the material for transport out of the country: he completed high quality plaster casts of the fossil remains and took them with him to New York. The original fossils he locked away for safekeeping.

In 1941, as conditions in China continued to deteriorate, the decision was made to move the original fossils, which were placed in a set of footlockers and given to a garrison of U.S. solders stationed in Peking. The plan was for them to be transported to the port city of Qinhuangdao, where they were to be loaded onto the U.S. Benjamin Harrison. What then happened is not entirely clear. The Japanese army captured the garrison of marines and the bones seemingly vanished. No one ever saw them again, and to this day the whereabouts of the fossils remain a mystery. Some believe that they went back to Japan with the Japanese army, others think that they became scattered among the local inhabitants of the area, and still other suggest that they ended up at the bottom of the ocean, never to be seen again. In 2005, the Chinese government began a program to locate the original bones.

Figure 7: Five of the Zhoukoudian Crania

The Zhoukoudian site yielded an amazing amount of material: twelve total crania of which six were almost complete, as well as a large collection of mandibles and hundreds of cranial fragments (Figure 7). The cranial capacity of these individuals ranges from 915 to 1225 cc, making them larger than the majority of the Southeast Asian individuals. But nearly as important as the fossils themselves, researchers found numerous stone “cleavers” and four layers of ash, reflecting the use of fire. All in all, there seems to have been a continuous occupation of the cave from around 600,000 to 200,000 years ago, spanning thirteen layers and some forty meters of deposits. Along with the crude implements, hundreds of mammal species are represented by remains in the cave, many of the bones having distinctive cut marks on them. This suggests that the occupants of this cave could (and did) hunt many different species for food.

Homo erectus and the Hand Axe:

While the archaeological record of tools for the Southeast Asian Homo erectus sample is extremely thin, some Chinese sites have provided artifacts. (Schick & Zhuan, 1993). Uniformly crude and not as developed as the Acheulean mode tools in East Africa, these bifacially-worked chopping tools have been referred to as “cleavers” by some researchers (figure below). There is considerable variation in size and shape, however, and Lycett has argued that there are regional variations in biface design and construction that can be attributed to the demands of different environments (Lycett, 2008). Interestingly, it is also clear that, over time, these tools became more uniform, resembling the hand axes that are found elsewhere. This suggests two strong possibilities: first, that specific functional necessities were the driving force behind their shape, and that these functional constraints necessitated a similarity in design between groups; or, second, that “technology swapping” between populations was occurring.

Figure 8: Bifaces from Zhoukoudian

Although these “cleavers” appear in numerous places in the Chinese record, there is a sharp break between them and the well-made hand axes of Africa, Southwest Asia and the Indian sub-continent. This break is referred to as the “Movius” Line, named for the researcher who first noticed the pattern. It has always been a source of puzzlement to archaeologists, but recently, some researchers have suggested that this demarcation exists because the Chinese Homo erectus populations possessed a raw material alternative for creating the complex tools they needed: bamboo. Bar-Yosef and colleagues have shown that with less effort and time required to make them, bamboo points can be created that are nearly as strong as and easier to use than stone ones (Bar-Yosef, Eren, Yuan, Cohen, & Li, 2012).

Beyond Homo ergaster: How many species of Mid-Pleistocene Homo?

One of the persistent problems of hominin studies when we get to our own line is attempting to determine how many species coexisted. As we have seen previously, there was even disagreement about how many species were represented in Eastern Africa, with Homo rudolfensis and Homo ergaster.

Historically, many archaeologists have held that Homo erectus was the hominin that colonized the Old World, and that this colonization took place between one and two million years ago. During the 1970s and 1980s, paleoanthropological thought held that Homo habilis followed the reign of the australopithecines, and was in turn followed by Homo erectus. More recently consensus has emerged around the idea that there was further speciation in those populations that ended up in Europe and Asia. Whether one accepts one species (H. erectus) or two (H. erectus and H. ergaster), there is, as Ian Tattersall describes, “a relatively cohesive subset of the family Hominidae.” (Tattersall, 2007)

Indeed, one is struck by the unity in morphological features that make up Homo erectus/Homo ergaster in all parts of the Old World. Rightmire (Rightmire, 1998) has consistently argued that the traits used to differentiate Homo ergaster from Homo erectus are lacking and that it is best to simply use the name Homo erectus to describe all of the middle Pleistocene hominins between about 1.6 million and 300,000 years ago. Antón suggests the following traits that characterize the species as a whole: a cranial vault ranging in volume from approximately 700 to 1200 cc; a low, sloping forehead and sharply angled rear; a large, single brow ridge over the eyes; and sharp muscle markings on base of the vault with very thick cranial bone. (Antón, 2003).

Cranial morphology is remarkably static through time as well (Kidder & Durband, 2004), with little change for hundreds of thousands of years. Differences that are found do not constitute trait polarities (presence or absence of a particular feature), but are differences in overall dimensions within a consistent general type, such that it is reasonable to assign these distinctions to regional genetic drift.

On the other hand, Wood has made the argument that, while it is reasonable to assign the taxon Homo erectus to the material in Asia, it is not reasonable to do so for the African remains: the Asian samples are marked by the presence of traits such as the sagittal keel (a ridge of bone on the top of the head, visible on Figures 1 and 4), the angular torus and thick cranial bone, while these features are not as evident in the African examples. Wood has suggested that the earliest fossils from Africa—originally designated Homo erectus—be called Homo ergaster, instead, a convention I adopted for the previous post in this series. At some point, however, a group or groups left Africa with some of these traits present, and the best explanation for their presence in both the Chinese and South East Asian populations is shared retentions from an ancestral population.

Homo erectus and the Created Order

Figure 9: Zhoukoudian Homo erectus and
Australopithecus africanus

At some point we must consider Homo erectus from another perspective, as well. It has been argued by those opposing evolution in general and human evolution in particular that the australopithecines represent nothing more than aberrant apes (Morris, 2002). While such an argument does not bear up under scrutiny even with regard to australopithecines, it certainly cannot be used to describe Homo erectus in light of the extensive material we have for this species. Not only is Homo erectus morphologically stable through time and across geographical space, it is also clear that these hominins are considerably more advanced than australopithecines (Figure 9). The crania of Homo erectus are longer, higher and considerably larger in volume; the face is more pulled in and less scooped. These are individuals that are creating complex stone tools, which are economical and efficient. In China, they are also controlling fire, an invention that completely changes how the day may be organized, and also expands the repertoire of what is edible. There is evidence for the controlled use of fire at both Lantian and Zhoukoudian and, considering the evidence at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, it appears that as Homo erectus moved east, they brought fire with them.

While not completely human, it is clear that Homo erectus were hominins practicing many of the behavioral patterns that we identify as human, and were getting closer to being human.

Literature Cited

1. Antón, S. C. (2003). Natural history of Homo erectus. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 122(S37), 126-170.
2. Bar-Yosef, O., Eren, M. I., Yuan, J., Cohen, D. J., & Li, Y. (2012). Were bamboo tools made in prehistoric Southeast Asia? An experimental view from South China. Quaternary International, 269(0), 9-21.
3. Delson, E., Harvati, K., Reddy, D., Marcus, L. F., Mowbray, K., Sawyer, G. J., et al. (2001). The Sambungmacan 3 Homo erectus calvaria: A comparative morphometric and morphological analysis. The Anatomical Record, 262(4), 380-397.
4. Dubois, E. (1896). On Pithecanthropus Erectus: A Transitional form Between Man and the Apes. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 25, 240-255.
5. Indriati, E., Swisher, C. C., III, Lepre, C., Quinn, R. L., Suriyanto, R. A., Hascaryo, A. T., et al. (2011). The Age of the 20 Meter Solo River Terrace, Java, Indonesia and the Survival of Homo erectus in Asia. PloS one, 6(6), e21562.
6. Kidder, J. H., & Durband, A. C. (2004). A re-evaluation of the metric diversity within Homo erectus. Journal of human evolution, 46(3), 297-313.
7. Lycett, S. J. (2008). Acheulean variation and selection: does handaxe symmetry fit neutral expectations? Journal of Archaeological Science, 35(9), 2640-2648.
8. Lyell, C. (1863). The geological evidence of the antiquity of man. London: John Murray.
9. Morris, J. D. (2002). There They Go Again! Acts and Facts, 31(9), 1-2.
10. Rightmire, G. P. (1998). Human evolution in the Middle Pleistocene: The role of Homo heidelbergensis. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 6(6), 218-227.
11. Schick, K. D., & Zhuan, D. (1993). Early paleolithic of China and eastern Asia. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 2(1), 22-35.
12. Shipman, P., & Storm, P. (2002). Missing links: Eugène Dubois and the origins of paleoanthropology. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 11(3), 108-116.
13. Swisher, C. C., Rink, W. J., Antón, S. C., Schwarcz, H. P., Curtis, G. H., & Widiasmoro, A. S. (1996). Latest Homo erectus of Java: Potential Contemporaneity with Homo sapiens in Southeast Asia. Science, 274(5294), 1870-1874.
14. Tattersall, I. (2007). Homo ergaster and its contemporaries Handbook of paleoanthropology (Vol. 3).
15. Turner, W. (1895). On M. Dubois' Description of Remains recently found in Java, named by him Pithecanthropus erectus: With Remarks on so-called Transitional Forms between Apes and Man. Journal of anatomy and physiology, 29(Pt 3), 424.

James Kidder holds a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Tennessee (UT). He currently employed as an instructor at UT, and as a science research librarian at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He has been involved in the Veritas Forum at UT and runs the blog "Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist/Theistic Evolutionist."

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George Bernard Murphy - #71442

July 29th 2012

And it all proves that the DNA system for recording information,.....[which the Bible refrs to as “the dust of the earth” ] is a flexible, versatile, vibrant creation tool. 

It has been said that if you had a single spoonful of pure DNA it’s information carrying capacity would be greater than ALL OF THE INFORMATION THAT HAS EVER BEEN CREATED IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE

 Now I wonder Who created the DNA system?

 Here is a clue!  His name  starts with a G,..... and ends with a D!


It;s Not Mr. GOOD BAR!

Try Again!

wesseldawn - #71445

July 29th 2012

I find this article very interesting. It’s like finding pieces to a puzzle and if enough bones are discovered, we can learn about the hominins (where they came from, how they lived, etc.). The bones are undeniable proof of the hominins existence and it would be nice to know their history.

George Bernard Murphy - #71450

July 29th 2012

Wess you are a nice guy,... [and I will hasten to add THAT I KNOW I AM NOT,]..but you are being too nice here.


  If I am not mistaken the “great find” that Davidson made was a SINGLE TOOTH that was brought to him,... and was, prior to that. in a Chinese drugstore.

 I took anthropology in college and yhis was one of the “great discoveries” that our professor laughed at.

 On the other hand there are great, great physical discoveries about the earth, like the magma flow and it’s significant mention in DAys 3 and 4 of the Genesis account of creation that are,.... MAGNIFICENT,,..... AWE INSPIRING AND BACKED BY THE GREATEST SPACE ACHIEVEMENTS  OF MANKIND,........ AND IGNORED BY THE PERSONS WHO SELECT THE MATERIAL FOR BIOLOGOS.  


 What did he discover?

 How is it mentioned in the Bible?

 It has to do with MAGMA CIRCULATION and ROTATION and it is miraculous!

Jimpithecus - #71452

July 29th 2012

George, why do you leave these comments when you have absolutely no interest in furthering the discussion.  Between the inanity and the caps lock, all you do is come across like a troll.

George Bernard Murphy - #71454

July 29th 2012

I DO want to further the discussion by preventing a time wasting rehash of 19th century science WHICH CROWDS OUT THE EXCITING DISCUSSION OF 21ST CENTRURY REVELATIONS BY SCIENCE.

wesseldawn - #71453

July 29th 2012

George, why are you so intent on discrediting the bones?

The bones deserve to tell their story. 

You are reminding me of Christians that tried to discredit dinosaur bones so they wouldn’t have to re-examine their theology - that’s not good science!

George Bernard Murphy - #71455

July 29th 2012

It is a blind alley.

 But great findings are elsewhere and the Biologos people have never moved on to them.

Jimpithecus - #71457

July 29th 2012

And what great findings might these be?

George Bernard Murphy - #71458

July 29th 2012


Here is a whole list of them.

 Believe me the 21st century science is much more enlightening than the 18th century science ever was.

 The magnetosphere was CRITICAL to life on earth.

Bones were not!

Jimpithecus - #71467

July 30th 2012

And this has what to do with human evolution, exactly?

George Bernard Murphy - #71469

July 30th 2012

It prepares a place for them.

the earth is NOT a habitable planet without a magnetosphere because sun’s radiation is lethal to ALL LIFE!. God first created a FILTER for sunlight. which took out the deadly charged particles.

To do this he created a magnetosphere,... lines of magnetic force that encircle earth from magnetic poles which we know as the north and south pole.

 The magnetic poles are created by a complex pattern of circulation in the molten magma in the earth’s interior.

 This had to be done before there were ANY BONES,.... or ANY KIND. 


The gathering of “dry land” into one place,.. a long gone continent that scientists call Pangea was that single land mass,..... BUT IT WAS THE SURFACE INDICATION THAT PROPER TYPE OF MAGMA CIRCULATION WAS ESTABLISHED AND WORKING PROPERLY IN THE INTERIOR.

Then there was life.

 THE BIBLE IS A BRILLIANT BOOK if read correctly.

 It gets belittled by would-be interpreters.


Jimpithecus - #71472

July 30th 2012

Once again, this has zero to do with human evolution.  You are describing physics processes that are not germane to the discussion.  Stay on track, George.

Jimpithecus - #71474

July 30th 2012

This is a really fascinating point in human prehistory where you can see the seeds of complex thought beginning to take hold. The transition to archaic Homo sapiens is equally as interesting.

wesseldawn - #71477

July 30th 2012

Neanderthals and archaic Homo-sapiens co-existed for a time but were different from each other. The Neanderthals did not develop the ‘seeds of complex thought’ to the degree of their Homo-sapien cousins!

And, “*the extinction of the Neanderthals is generally believed to be due to interspecific competition with modern humans”.


Department of Anthropology and AHRB Centre for the Evolutionary Analysis of Cultural

Behaviour, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK




Jimpithecus - #71489

July 30th 2012

Actually, the most up-to-date information information suggests that early modern humans and Neandertals did interbreed because we have (depending on which population group you are looking at) between 4 and 9% Neandertal genes in us. 

What likely happened is that the modern genome swamped the Neandertal one over time and the Neandertals simply ceased to exist as a distinct population group.

There was positive selection for the Neandertal physique while it was cold, but once the ice retreated between 35 and 40 thousand years ago, in Europe, the selective advantage became a selective disadvantage because the modern humans required fewer calories to survive.

wesseldawn - #71504

July 30th 2012

Yes, and I knew there was interbreeding as I mentioned it somewhere else (can’t remember). Do you suppose then that the Neanderthal species disappeared as a result of assimilating the superior genes of Homo-sapien over the course of time?

wesseldawn - #71507

July 30th 2012


re my last response (“Yes, I knew there was interbreeding…”): I was probably just restating what you had already said?:

What likely happened is that the modern genome swamped the Neandertal one over time and the Neandertals simply ceased to exist as a distinct population group.

Jimpithecus - #71517

July 30th 2012

The interesting thing about the earliest modern human remains from Europe, e.g. Cro-Magnon, Stetten, Mladec, Predmosti (all between 27 and 34 thousand years B.P. is that they all have some archaic characteristics and for years Dave Frayer has argued that you can see certain Neandertal characteristics in these individuals.  They are obviously NOT Neandertal and are modern overall, but those traces remain. 

wesseldawn - #71523

July 31st 2012

What were those Neanderthal characteristics that Dave Frayer observed?

Michael Berthaume - #71757

August 7th 2012

What’s really interesting (I think) about the DNA evidence that supports interbreeding is that certain groups of people are more closely related to Neandertals than others.

When the DNA was sequenced from three different Neandertals, it was compared to “one San from Southern Africa, one Yoruba from West Africa, one Papua New Guinean, one Han Chinese, and one French from Western Europe” (see Green et al., 2010. A draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome. Science 328,710) and, as it turned out, Neandertals are most closely related to Europeans, somewhat related to Asians and are not related to Africans, meaning that if you’re of Eurasian descent, you most probably have Neandertal blood in your veins and if you’re of African descent, you most probably don’t.  

Churchill has also called into question whether the short, stocky build of the Neandertals was actually a cold adaptation, as is predicted by Allen and Bergman’s rule.  The most convincing argument for this (I think) is, if it really was a cold adaptation, why did Neandertals who were living in Israel and the Middle East have these same adaptations?  He also argues that the major benefit to having the short stocky build would be to reduce their surface area to volume ratio, but when he reconstructed a Neandertal’s soft tissue and actually measured the surface area and volume of the Neandertal, his results did not support this hypothesis.  Also, how would you explain the Neandertals short, flat noses which would be acting more like vents to expend heat, which would clearly not be beneficial in a cold climate.

Some people are beginning to argue that these “cold adaptation” features could be explained by environmental factors (i.e. higher levels of activity lead to thicker bones) but genetics and alterations in growth and development curves could also explain them.  This argument is currently being made by an increasing number of scientists (see Tany Smith’s work from Harvard for information concerning Neandertal growth and development information).

wesseldawn - #71826

August 9th 2012

Thanks for this, it’s very interesting.

I always suspected that Genghis Khan was a Neanderthal!

Steve Mittelstaedt - #71480

July 30th 2012

On stepping back from this it seems to me that observable human behavior is demonstrated by the ability to conceptualize (for a full discussion see The Difference of Man And The Difference It Makes, by Mortimer J. Adler New York : Fordham University Press, 1993). It goes beyond what is described in part 9 of this series as “anticipatory cognition.” The ability to build a fire and fashion purpose-built tools satisfies this.  This is fundamentally different from exploiting chance finds.  It could be argued that much of the earlier Oldowan tools are mere examples of chance exploitation, which is something that even crows do.

But the Acheulean industry looks fundamentally different.  Anyone who thinks that either knapping stone tools or building a fire from whatever you happen to find lying about are simple procedures ought go experiment.  Both activities require the ability to recogonize that a particular chance material is suitable for conversion into a generalized end-product which may look nothing like the raw objects.

If fire and purpose-built tools can be associated with with Homo erectus (or ergastor), for all practical purposes they are us.

wesseldawn - #71484

July 30th 2012

According to the information I just posted, they were not us, otherwise the Neanderthals would still be around!

I suppose you could say they were us in the sense that Neaderthals were the direct progeny of Adam!

wesseldawn - #71505

July 30th 2012

I digress. After Jimpithecus’ last response (just above) it occurred to me that the Neanderthals disappearance could well have been assimilation (with Homo-sapien) not annihilation!

wesseldawn - #71511

July 30th 2012

I wonder what you would call assimilation (genome swamped)? It could no longer be called evolution -  or could it?

Jimpithecus - #71518

July 30th 2012

Oh sure.  It is a massive case of genetic flow from a larger population to a smaller one.  The larger one is more selectively adapted for warmer climates and the smaller one is on its last legs because of the climate change in Europe that has made it much warmer.  There is something called hybrid depression where one genome is, effectively, disrupted by another when the second one moves in.  That would have gotten the ball rolling and within say a couple of hundred generations, the Neandertals are pretty much gone.  There is definitely positive selection in one genome and negative selection in the other. 

Interestingly, the Neandertals that are from the Mediterranean that are generally later in time (40-50 ky), are a bit smaller and more gracile than the classic Neandertals from the interior.  These changes took place over the course of about ten thousand years.

wesseldawn - #71524

July 31st 2012

How do you see the Neanderthals fitting into the Biblical narrative - or do you?

wesseldawn - #71577

August 1st 2012

I hope I didn’t offend you Jimpithecus? I was merely curious to find out your thoughts on how the Neanderthals fit into the Bible. Or how you perceive the Bible (or if you do)...as someone that can appreciate both the bones and the Bible, I’m looking for how they fit together.

Jimpithecus - #71582

August 1st 2012

No offense taken whatever.  I am still working out the details because I think there is a lot of stuff in the first eleven chapters of Genesis that we simply can’t take literally and there is a lot of cross-polination with Mesopotamian.  IF the original beginning of Genesis was at Chapter 12, and the earlier chapters were added during the captivity, that makes sense. 

I am happy with the material being “spiritual” truth rather than “literal” truth because, in some ways, that helps me “believe” that it is real, as opposed to the complete lack of concurrence with any of the physical evidence.  In this regard, I think the ICR and AiG do an incredible dissservice to the lay Christian out there by asking them to believe something that is completely lacking in evidence.

Jimpithecus - #71583

August 1st 2012

Wow, garbled that one in places.  Pollination should have two Ls and the sentence should end with “stories.”

wesseldawn - #71601

August 1st 2012

I’m still working out many of the details also but from what I see in Gen. 2:7 man (soul=animal principle only) was a brute animal (translation=ruddy). Only when it entered the garden (2:8) and got God’s image was it able to become something else - evolution with a twist!

I personally think that the whole thing was an accident because if God had done the choosing I think he would have picked a different animal than a Chimpanzee!

The early chapters of Genesis appears to be a short overview of a very large span of time as Gen. 2:4 refers to the creation time as ‘generations’.

Jimpithecus - #71618

August 2nd 2012

Well, I know that folks like Hugh Ross have tried to apply a day-age theory to the text and that doesn’t work.  For one thing, the animals are created before Man in Genesis 1 and after Man in Genesis 2.  Additionally, there are points where the order is not what we find in nature. 

You are going to need to elaborate on the “accident” bit because I am not sure I understand what you mean.

wesseldawn - #71622

August 2nd 2012

As I see it, the Bible is not supposed to be read chronologically. For example, man in 2:7 is found to be a brute animal (soul/physical body without God’s image) that was a product ‘of’ the dust/ground (a beast, see Eccl. 3:18). Therefore, man was one of the beasts of the earth (Gen. 1:25)

It was ‘the garden’ that caused the changes that happened to ruddy.

If God had done the choosing, surely He would have picked a creature that did not have tendencies to violence while telling us to ‘love our neighbor’. Also primates have the natural proclivity of one male presiding over a pod of females, while the NT instructs to have only one wife (1 Tim. 3:2, 1 Tim. 3:12, Titus 1:6).

The creature that wandered into the garden (obviously a mammal/Chimpanzee or some other primate) had natural tendencies that were directly opposed to God’s laws!


Jimpithecus - #71581

August 1st 2012

I don’t.  I think the biblical narrative only applies to modern humans, and late Neolithic ones at that.

Michael Berthaume - #71758

August 7th 2012

This article is very interesting, but it leaves me with some questions.  Does the author believe that the Asian Homo erectus is the ancestral lineage that gave rise to modern humans?  Also, some more current information and theories about Australopithecines and Homo should be addressed when comparing the two species.  For example, the author talks about how part of the reason why Homo erectus is more human like is the use of fire, but one of the current arguments being made by Wrangham to explain the sudden increase in brain size between Australopiths and Homo habilis was that hominins began cooking their food.  Also, there were stone tools found in sites in Eastern Africa that are attributes to Homo habilis, but were found near Paranthropus boisei.  We assume these tools belong to Homo habilis, but what if they didn’t?  That would mean Australopithecines (Paranthropines are the “robust” Australopithecines) had the ability to make tools, does this make them human like? 

Also, a question of interest (for me), do the people on this site consider Neandertals to be human, or no?  Why?

Jimpithecus - #71805

August 8th 2012

The author, me, tends to regard Homo erectus as a polytypic species that has regional variation.  I do not know which branch gave rise to archaic Homo sapiens or whether there was selection for a more modern (relative to H. erectus) morphology that percolated throughout the different geographical regions.  There seems to be a general trend to archaic Homo sapiens no matter where you go (Dali and Mapa in China, Arago and Petralona in Europe, Kabwe, Bodo and Omo in Africa) and it all sort of starts happening around 300 to 400 thousand years ago.  There are definitely links to the previous Homo erectus populations because you can see trait holdovers and the technology is similar at the beginning of the AHS sample. 

The evidence that A. boisei made the stone tools found in the general area is sparse, primarily because there are tools found with all sorts of different variants of Homo and none (that we know of) with Australopithecus.

Neandertals belong to a catch-all group called “archaic Homo sapiens” (referenced above) that are regionally distinct and cold-adapted.  They appear to have been every bit as intelligent as us but were handicapped by the severe cold and low population density.  We pride ourselves on being able to make fantastic machines but the fact is that, as you go back in time, even with modern humans, things changed slowly.  The greatest motivator for technological change is population density (the need to build a better mousetrap) and the rapid changes did not come about until well after the modern humans arrived on the scene. 

The first modern human stone tool technology in Europe is known as the Aurignacian, which shows up around 43 ky B.P.  Then the Gravettian at around 32, then the Solutrean around 26, then the Magdelenean at 18 and so on.  each transition gets faster as the population grows—people bouncing ideas off of each other.  The stone tools get better and better, then they get replaced by bone tools and then by metal. 

Michael Berthaume - #71815

August 9th 2012

The reason I brought up the A. boisei example is because, if you read above the Leakey’s first discovery of boisei, they found stone tools in the same strata and no representatives from the genus Homo anywhere nearby.  They just assumed because of brain size and the ancestral features possesed by boisei that there was no way it would be capable of constructing tools.  Of course, with the discovering of H. floresiensis, we now know that brain size has nothing to do with an animal’s ability to construct stone weapons.  

And what is your definition of modern human stone tool technology?  What about the non-stone tool technology (for example, the wooden spears found in Lower Saxony that are dated to be 400 ky BP)?


There is also evidence that Neandertals are not cold adapted. (I wrote this next portion previously in another thread dealing with this article)

“Churchill has also called into question whether the short, stocky build of the Neandertals was actually a cold adaptation, as is predicted by Allen and Bergman’s rule.  The most convincing argument for this (I think) is, if it really was a cold adaptation, why did Neandertals who were living in Israel and the Middle East have these same adaptations?  He also argues that the major benefit to having the short stocky build would be to reduce their surface area to volume ratio, but when he reconstructed a Neandertal’s soft tissue and actually measured the surface area and volume of the Neandertal, his results did not support this hypothesis.  Also, how would you explain the Neandertals short, flat noses which would be acting more like vents to expend heat, which would clearly not be beneficial in a cold climate.

Some people are beginning to argue that these “cold adaptation” features could be explained by environmental factors (i.e. higher levels of activity lead to thicker bones) but genetics and alterations in growth and development curves could also explain them.  This argument is currently being made by an increasing number of scientists (see Tany Smith’s work from Harvard for information concerning Neandertal growth and development information).”

Lumping the Neandertals into a general, catch-all group called “archaic Homo sapiens” is something that most if not all paleoanthropologists will disagree with.  Although there is evidence of interbreeding, Neandertals are considered a different species.  Although the formal definition of a species is “ as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring” and speciation is said to occur when two species can no longer produce fertile offspring, it is generally accepted that nowadays, speciation can occur between two groups of animals even when the two groups can still breed and produce fertile offspring.  For example, there are actually two species of African elephants, the ones that live in the savanas and the ones that live in the forests.  They can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, but they are genetically isolated from one another and have adaptations (unique to each group) that help them survive in their respective enviornments.

Jimpithecus - #71842

August 10th 2012

Rae, Kopp and Stringer may be on to something about cold-adaptation in Neandertals.  I remember when I came through, Fred Smith was arguing that the Neandertals were using their teeth as tools and that explained some of the size.  Maybe he wasn’t wrong after all.  The problem with cold-adaptation is that it is, in some senses, circular.  It might be correct and it might not but it is extremely hard to test.  We assume that they are cold-adapted because they lived in that region and their faces are very different from those of other archaic groups. Holliday argues that post-cranially, the Neandertals are cold-adapted (hyperpolar, he calls it).

As far as the Neandertals in Israel looking that  way, it is quite possible that they moved there to get away from the cold.  They date to around the same time as the classic western Neandertals so there would be little time for longitudinal change.  

Karen Baab suggests that there might be a problem with the cold-adapted hypothesis as well but there aren’t a lot of modern human groups that have the time depth necessary to test the question.  

The other thing to consider is that the Neandertal face is built on the Homo heidelbergensis face, which is already large.  If you look at the material from Atapuerca, which is ante-Neandertal, the faces are huge.  If you build on that face, you might get something like the Neandertal face.  Might be cold-adapted, might not be but it would be big. 

Lumping the Neandertals into a general, catch-all group called “archaic Homo sapiens” is something that most if not all paleoanthropologists will disagree with.

Indeed, it appears that, far from being an isolated phenomenon, Homo neanderthalensis formed part of a larger endemic European hominid clade.  –Tattersall and Schwartz

Our study compares early AMHs (200–60 kya) with recent humans from diverse geographical origin, Upper Paleolithic (UP) people, Neanderthals, and other archaic forms of the genus Homo (AH)—Gunz etal. 2008

The implication of this is that Neandertals and moderns were not different species and that Neandertals are best considered the western Eurasian clade, geographical “race,” or subspecies of archaic Homo sapiens—Clark, 2002

This study uses the two developmental fields of dental maturation and femoral growth to determine if the pattern of growth and development in Neandertals (archaic Homo sapiens) was intermediate between that of Homo erectus and recent modern humans—Thompson and Nelson, 2000

Nevertheless, it is clear from the pelvic morphology that Neandertal women (and other archaic Homo sapiens) almost certainly gave birth in a similar fashion to modern humans—Akazawa et al. 1998

Over the past 25 years, rotational birth has been inferred for archaic Homo sapiens based largely on 3 specimens (3): Sima 1, a 600,000-year-old male pelvis from the Sima de los Huesos, Spain (8, 9); a 260,000-year-old left os coxa belonging to a partial female skeleton from Jinniushan, northeastern China (10, 11); and a 60,000-year-old partial pelvis from a male Levantine Neandertal, Kébara 2 (12).—Franciscus 2009

The multiregional model assumes phyletic gradualism from archaic Homo sapiens  to anatomically modern humans, with continuing gene flow between Neanderthals and Upper Paleolithic modern human populations likely (e.g., Frayer et al., 1993; Wolpoff, 1989; Wolpoff et al., 1984).—Schillaci and Froehlich 2001

The same fossils [Levantine hominids] can variously be categorized as archaic Homo sapiens, as Neanderthals or as a migrant population of Homo sapiens  that had evolved locally. —Tillier 2007

As I said, they are a late regional variant of Archaic Homo sapiens.  Is that a good taxonomic designation?  No, it is hideous but until we figure out how many species are involved, that’s what we have. 

Michael Berthaume - #71942

August 15th 2012

Ahh I completely forgot about the argument between Homo sapien neandertalensis and Homo neandertalensis—The group of researchers I have been working with always consider them a separate species, so I’ve grown accoustomed to thinking that way, I am sorry I was wrong!  

I always think of them as a different species because they do have a distinct set of characteristics that differentiate them from Homo sapiens.  I am interested in seeing in the future, too, how the argument of being cold adapted vs. coming off of the growth and development curves at a different spot than modern humans plays out (my favorite article I read a few months ago on this was about the “globularization” of the human brain—don’t completely agree with the results but like the concept!)

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