The Human Fossil Record, Part 4: Australopithecus Conquers the Landscape

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April 4, 2011 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 The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Australopithecus anamensis

In my previous post, I described the discovery of the first Australopithecus in South Africa by Raymond Dart. Beginning with the work of Dart and venerable palaeontologist, Robert Broom, an extensive range of discoveries has been made that continues to the present day.

The earliest known species from the genus that Dart discovered is known as Australopithecus anamensis. Its remains are, sadly, still quite fragmentary. Working at the sites of Kanapoi and Allia Bay in Lake Turkana, in Kenya, Richard Leakey and others unearthed the partial remains of a number of individuals, which are securely dated to between 4.0 and 4.2 million years ago. By comparison, Ardipithecus ramidus (see Figure 1) is dated to around 4.4 million years. More recently 30 specimens of Australopithicus anamensis from at least 8 individuals have been found in Ethiopia and they have been dated at a similar age (see here for an analysis of the rock strata and age of the formations in which the specimens were found.)

Figure 1 Australopithecus in Perspective (from Science Magazine)

Editor's Note: The above diagram is intended as a means of comparison between Australopithecus and its close genetic relatives. It is NOT intended to present a strictly linear progression or imply that gorillas and chimpanzees evolved into present homo sapiens.

Currently, the remains attributed to Australopithicus anamensis consist of several jawbones, some lower faces, more than 50 isolated teeth, skull fragments, several sections of lower arm and a section of a tibia, just below the knee (See Figures 2 and 3). Nonetheless, it is possible, for reasons discussed below, to determine a great deal about how this species moved around, the kinds of things that it ate and, critically, how it differed from its predecessor, Ardipithecus, and the forms that would come after it.

It has been determined that this species inhabited sparse woodland, river bank environments and open grassland, a greater range than that in which Ardipithecus lived. This is based on the similarities between the deposits from Kanapoi, Allia Bay and those of Australopithecus afarensis, the hominin that follows Australopithecus anamensis, temporally. In addition there has been an extensive analysis of accompanying fossil species found at the Ethopian site where specimens from eight A. anamensis individuals have been found.

In addition to the increase in range, certain elements of the skeleton are present that show a clear trend toward the forms that would come later. These include significant changes in how the teeth and palate are arranged, the shape of the teeth (Figure 2), and the morphology of the tibia (Figure 3).

Figure 2 (above, left). Lower Jaw bone of two specimens of Australopithecus anamensis. Figure 3 (below, right). Different views of the same tibia bone from Australopithecus anamensis.

In Ardipithecus, the dentition was very similar to that of modern chimpanzees, with the exception of the size of the canine, which was shortened. The teeth were geared toward a fruit and leaf diet, with occasional meat thrown in, such as you would find in a forest environment.

In Australopithecus anamensis, however, the teeth had much thicker enamel, they were larger and had flatter grinding surfaces that would have been more suited to nuts and other hard foods. This suggests that this hominin would have been well-adapted for life in open grassland and savannah.

The orientation of the tibial shaft indicates that it was positioned directly up and down in relation to the foot and the femur, suggesting that the individual walked completely upright. The length of the radius fragment and its comparison to the tibial fragment further attests that this individual had arms that were elongated, like Ardipithecus. It seems likely, therefore, that like Ardipithecus, A.anamensis spent quite a bit of time off the ground.

It is tempting to speculate about the cognitive abilities of Australopithecus anamensis relative to Ardipithecus ramidus. We have no evidence that Ardipithecus existed outside the forest environment. Based on the taphonomic evidence, we strongly suspect that A. anamensis existed in the fringe and savannah. We do know that the vast majority of modern primates have home ranges that are restricted to one kind of biome. For example, Orang-utans only live in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra while Spider and Howler monkeys only exploit the forest canopies of Central America. While these examples certainly reflect a stable evolutionary response to particular environments, their inability to move beyond these environments and the need for conservation efforts to preserve them reflect a level of cognitive ability that appears to be restricted. If A. anamensis could survive in both the forest/fringe and savanna environments, it suggests an increase in cognitive abilities for this species. More evidence will be necessary to lend credence to this hypothesis.

Australopithecus afarensis

In 1973, working with a local team of fossil hunters, Maurice Taieb went to an arid stretch of land in the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia to an area called Hadar. A year later, Don Johanson, a member of his team discovered one of the most famous of all fossil hominin discoveries ever made. Exploring 3.4 and 3.6 million years old deposits, he discovered the fragmentary remains that constituted 40% of the skeleton of a small adult female (Figure 4) . This individual was nicknamed “Lucy” after the Beatles' song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" which played in the camp during the analysis of the remains. The team named the species she represented Australopithecus afarensis, because she had been found in the Afar triangle. Johanson, together with M. Edey, went on to pen the New York Times Bestseller Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. This book catapulted Lucy onto the national stage and fueled research into the biological origins of humankind (Johnanson and Edey 1980).

When Lucy was examined, it was found that the shape and position of the the teeth and jaw as well as the hip and long bone fragments put her almost perfectly intermediate be tween the ape position and the human position. Although she had the overall size and rib cage structure of a chimpanzee, her pelvis and leg bones were perfectly adapted for bipedalism (for a discussion on bipedalism, see this post and this video.) It was in the teeth and palate that the clearest transitional characteristics existed (Figure 5, right). In modern humans (5c), the dental arcade (tooth row) is in the shape of a parabola, like the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis. In apes (5a), it is a sharp “U” shape. In A. afarensis (5b), it is intermediate, tending toward the ape condition.

In apes, there is a space (diastema) between the canine and the second incisor (bicuspid, if you prefer) to allow room for the long lower canine when the ape closes its mouth. In A. afarensis, the canine is human-sized and the diastema, while still present, is smaller. In apes, the first premolar is rotated relative to the tooth row and has a very high cusp so that it creates a sharpening surface for the opposite canine when the two teeth come together. In Lucy, the cusp is somewhat lower and the premolar is only slightly rotated. In humans, the cusp does not extend above the tooth row and there is no rotation at all.

The case for habitual bipedalism received added support from a site much further south than where Lucy had been found. In 1976, Andrew Hill, a digger in Mary Leakey’s team, working at the site of Laetoli, in Tanzania, unearthed a set of hominin tracks that had been covered by a now extinct volcano. These footprints, which extend approximately 80 feet across the plain, have been securely dated at 3.6 million years and show where two individuals walked side-by-side (Figure 6). The tracks are significant in that they demonstrate that the individuals who made them had arches and practiced the characteristic “toe-off” pattern of gait practiced only by hominins. The presence of A. afarensis skeletal remains nearby at the same level provided the link to the footprints.

By the time A. afarensis appears in the lineage all clear evidence of spending time in the trees was gone. On the foot, the arch had become prominent and the big toe, which had been slightly off-set in Ardipithecus and possibly Australopithecus anamensis, was firmly in-line with the other toes. The presence of the arch allowed for easy toe-off locomotion and would have been disadvantageous in climbing trees because it contributes to the rigidity of the foot. This was a species that was not just optimized for bipedality, it had become its only form of locomotion Furthermore, as noted, taphonomic evidence indicates that this species could exist in the forest and fringe environments. Its presence in both the Afar triangle and near Lake Turkana (nee Lake Rudolf) further suggests that it had a range of several thousand miles (Figure 7, left).

Kimbel and others have suggested that the similarities in traits between A. anamensis and A. afarensis represent an ancestor-descendant relationship, with A. afarensis representing the more advanced stage in hominin evolution(Kimbel et al. 2006).



Stone Tools: A Cognitive Shift

With Australopithecus afarensis came another striking evolutionary development. While A. anamensis and A. afarensis have been shown to have adapted to the forest/fringe and savannah environments, it is with A. afarensis that we have the first evidence of behavior that is directly cognitive in nature: the use of stone tools. At the site of Dikika, in Ethiopia, very near the site of recovery of an almost complete A. afarensis skeleton, animal bones were discovered dated to at least 3.39 million years ago that demonstrate distinctive signs of human action: cut marks. As McPherron et al. write:

The cut marks demonstrate hominin use of sharp-edged stone to remove flesh from the femur and rib. The location and density of the marks on the femur indicate that flesh was rather widely spread on the surface, although it is possible that there could have been isolated patches of flesh. The percussion marks on the femur demonstrate hominin use of a blunt stone to strike the bone, probably to gain access to the marrow. (McPherron et al. 2010) (For video summary of discovery, see here)

These authors are quick to point out that there is no way to determine whether or not these marks were made by tools that were modified for this purpose or made with the first available sharp rock, although the authors note that rocks found in association with the bones had been transported over six kilometers from their original location. This reflects advanced behavior by these hominins, though, including the first consumption of meat known in the fossil record.

Figure 8. Cut Marks on 3.35 Million year old Bovid Femur (from Nature)

With Australopithecus afarensis, however, a new hominin was on the landscape—a hominin that could adapt to new environments and, to a limited degree, adjust the environment around them to meet their needs. Without the adaptations necessary to remain in the trees for any length of time, and with the ability to balance and walk in a truly human fashion, the fact that they no longer needed to use the hands for support or grasping, freed them up for other uses. As A. afarensis moved about the landscape, these uses became evident: they modified what they had at their disposal.

It is unfortunate that we do not know whether these hominins created the tools to make these marks or used what was available to them. If they brought stones with them to butcher animals, though, it means that they were the first hominins that did more than react to their environment; they modified it to their uses.

Next, the diversification and extinction of the australopithecines and the rise of the genus Homo.

Notes

1. Johnanson, D. & M. Edey. 1980. Lucy: The beginning of humankind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

2. Kimbel, W., C. Lockwood, C. Ward, M. Leakey, Y. Rak & D. Johanson (2006) Was Australopithecus anamensis ancestral to A. afarensis? A case of anagenesis in the hominin fossil record. Journal of human evolution, 51, 134-152.

3. McPherron, S. P., Z. Alemseged, C. W. Marean, J. G. Wynn, D. Reed, D. Geraads, R. Bobe & H. A. Bearat (2010) Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature, 466, 857-860.

4. Ward, C., M. Leakey & A. Walker (1999) The new hominid species Australopithecus anamensis. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 7, 197-205.


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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John - #56771

April 4th 2011

Beautiful, except that while I can understand Fig. 1, I suspect that laypeople will use it to falsely infer a linear progression. Would you mind adding some explanation?


Jimpithecus - #56963

April 5th 2011

Darrel stuck a comment in to that effect.  Good thinking. 


conrad - #56772

April 4th 2011

Bones are nice to show old hardware but humans are mainly software BASED.

 “THE BREATH OF LIFE”    What a software upgrade!
I don’t think we should confuse evolving hardware designs with real progress toward modern humans.
To get back to basics the soft ware applications  do not come form the hardware.

Many of you no doubt have smartphones. You there for know that  new aps are purchased separately from the hardware. Changes in hardware design do not give you new aps automatically
Improving chimp hardware did not lead to humans either.
So don’t forget “the breath of life”.

conrad - #56773

April 4th 2011

ACCEPT JESUS AS YOUR SAVIOR AND GET NEW APS!


CYeager - #56914

April 5th 2011

“apps”

Sorry, my ocd is flaring up.

Jon Garvey - #56920

April 5th 2011

So we now believe man is descended from apps??

Gets coat, but only after reading excellent and informative article).


conrad - #56935

April 5th 2011

Jon I think you hit it.
 New software applications made man from common earth APE parts.

And to think Darwin was SO CLOSE!
 He just misspelled one little word it was “APPS” and he wrote APES”

conrad - #56937

April 5th 2011

Jon I think we have a new slogan here.”
 “Man does not represent a new ape He is just a  an old ape. with a new app”
Or maybe the slogan should be. 
 “New app in an old APE”
 Either was it get ths point accross that we don’t care about old bones or even old DRN or details about the DNA mutation “Tree” or “Bush” because it was that Breath of Life software upgrade that made us human.

Jimpithecus - #56964

April 5th 2011

Thank you, John.


Paul D. - #56840

April 5th 2011

Great article. For Christians like myself who have relatively recently embraced evolution, the path that resulted in modern man is a fascinating one indeed.


Jimpithecus - #56965

April 5th 2011

It is fascinating to see the changes through time.  When I submitted this MS, Darrel (correctly) chastised me for imputing “humanness” to the australopithecines.  He is correct, but the further along you get, the more human the forms get (as I pointed out Dennis below in 56961). 


Jeff Fischer - #56871

April 5th 2011

Dr. Kidder,

I have to second what Paul D. said. Excellent article - it’s always exciting to see one of your blogs. I continue to be intrigued by how the smallest hints can reveal so much about these ancient hominins.


Jimpithecus - #56873

April 5th 2011

Dear Paul and William, thanks so much for your kind words.  It is has been a great series to write and I am especially looking forward to the ones where the transition to modern humans takes place.  While it would certainly be nice to have many, many more fossils to work with, what we do have tells us a lot about our ancestry.


Jimpithecus - #56875

April 5th 2011

John at 5661 said: “Beautiful, except that while I can understand Fig. 1, I suspect that
laypeople will use it to falsely infer a linear progression. Would you
mind adding some explanation?”

Good point.  the problem this early on is that while there have been studies arguing ancestral-descendent relationships between A. anamensis and A. afarensis, we really don’t know whether or not that was the case.  There may be something else out there better suited.  The nature of this record becomes more apparent when you have the adaptive radiation of the later australopithecines. It is literally a bush: six species appear in the space of approximately a million years.


Maurizio - #56931

April 5th 2011

Kudos once again James. Love the article and the way you can describe this early human ancestor so vividly and clearly.

What possible explanation could evolution deniers offer? These were apes only and have no connection to homo sapiens. They all died in the flood at once.

Science and logic would have to be stretched to their limits…


conrad - #56941

April 5th 2011

What possible explanation could evolution deniers offer? 


I THINK WE WOULD SAY YOU ARE CORRECT IN OUTLINING HOW TH E “DUST OF THE EARTH EVOLVED BUT WHAT MADE US “HUMAN WAS THE SOFTWARE THAT WAS PUT INTO IT.

 This should not be hard  to understand when our generation has followed the progreSS of companies like Intel who have put more and more on a single chip while at the same time following the development of new wireles networks and software companies like Microsoft producing new apps..
 
Two necessary scientific disciplines evolved together. Both have an interesting development history.
 BUT THE FINISHED HARDWARE DID NOT CREATE THE SOFTWARE SO IT IS NOT ACCURATE TO SAY THE BONES SHOW THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMANS.

Jimpithecus - #56962

April 5th 2011

Conrad, Australopithecus is not human, at least not in the sense that you and I would know human.  Australopithecus is Australopithecus.  But, make no mistake, it is not an ape, such as a chimpanzee or a gorilla, either.  It is something in between an ape and us.  Furthermore, if you continue to read this series, the forms get more and more like us as time progresses. 


Gregory - #56969

April 5th 2011

Are you suggesting something like this, Conrad?

“The entire evolutionary process shifted, at the moment of Sputnik, from biology to technology.” – Marshall McLuhan (COUNTERBLAST, Harcourt, 1969: 143)


Gregory - #56972

April 5th 2011

Are you suggesting something like the following, Conrad?

“The entire evolutionary process shifted, at the moment of Sputnik, from biology to technology.” – Marshall McLuhan (COUNTERBLAST, Harcourt, 1969: 143)

“Two necessary scientific disciplines evolved together.” - conrad 

repeat: there is no need or help to say that ‘disciplines evolve.’ The ‘action’ of disciplines changing is fundamentally *other* than biological changes. such change is predominantly purposeful & telic *in character* (i.e. not merely or trivially ‘by nature’). Yes, they ‘develop;’ but no, they don’t ‘evolve.’ Para su futuro. Thanks.


Jimpithecus - #56942

April 5th 2011

Several of you have complemented me on the readability of this article.  In point of fact, Darrel hammered it into shape and improved it immensely.  You should thank him as well.


Dennis Marks - #56948

April 5th 2011

http://www.revelation.co/2010/04/10/is-australopithecus-sediba-missing-link-of-evolution-a-christians-creationist-perspective/

You’ve got to be kidding. The missing links are still missing. All have been hoaxes like the dating of the end of the world. Get real. As far as anyone can detemine the missing links are still missing. They’re missing because they never were.


Jimpithecus - #56961

April 5th 2011

Dennis, you might want to go back to the original articles instead of
reading an armchair paper by someone who knows nothing of the literature
but it quite content to hurl invective and scoff at researchers trying
to understand the fossil record.  I read the link you provided.  There
is nothing edifying in it. 


Dennis - #57094

April 6th 2011

Sorry jimpithecus that you read an article you found un-edifying. Hope it did not damage you permanently. Sometimes truth can hurt. The fossil record as interpreted by evolutionists is a circular reasoning scam. Have you not found this out? The reason they cannot figure out the fossil record is because they do not want to see the evidence for what is it (by way of explanation of the Word of God). A whole lot of water in a very short amount of time instead of a little bit of water in a very long period of time.

BTW Explain the saltiness of the sea in respect to billions of years. Explain the movement of the moon away from the earth in respect to billions of years. Please do write anything unedifying when you answer me.


Dennis - #57095

April 6th 2011

BTW show me one place on earth where the rock layers are the way the evolutionists want them to be in light of their tree of evolution. Then compare them to any other place. Will even two match up? If the evolutionists are correct we should should see numerous rock layers from various parts of the earth that actually match to the fabled evolutionary history of the earth. Darwinism is flat earth. Please return the Biblical account and you will find the truth you seek.


Jimpithecus - #57124

April 6th 2011

Actually, Dennis, you could go just about anywhere on the earth to see examples of the rock layers that fits the evolutionary predictions.  The Grand Canyon is a good example.  I helped to excavate over twenty archaeological sites in Japan and the stratigraphy was always in the proper order. 

One of the nice things about all of the excavations that went on while they were constructing the railroads in England in the early 1800s is that the geological column was firmly established in that area.  Further research established more sections of the column in Europe.  What you DON’T see is any place on earth where the rock layers are not in order.  You do have places where some layers are eroded and are missing but in no place are they out of order. 

BTW: please respond without being sarcastic and insulting.  That gets very wearing and does not add to the discussion. 


Gregory - #56974

April 5th 2011

“With Australopithecus afarensis came another striking evolutionary development. While A. anamensis and A. afarensis have been shown to have adapted to the forest/fringe and savannah environments, it is with A. afarensis that we have the first evidence of behavior that is directly cognitive in nature: the use of stone tools.” - James

Why do you define ‘cognitive behaviour’ as ‘in nature’? Most of the ‘human behaviour’ that I see reflects ‘human character,’ not just ‘nature.’ Character is a supra-natural concept that does not apply for pre-Adamic ‘races.’ It would be strange to speak with a psychologist today who studies ‘human cognition’ yet who speaks more about ‘human nature’ than ‘human character.’ 

What I think I am hearing is ‘anthropological naturalism’ in James’ writing. Is this accurate? Please correct if not.

The use of stone tools is an ‘evolutionary leap’ that might best be called something other than ‘evolution’ in the strictly biological or physiological senses of the term. Do you leave open that the ‘emergence’ of ‘mind’ could be considered a non-evolutionary ‘leap,’ James?

Likewise, do you leave open any possibility for discontinuous transitions in your approach to ‘pre-human’ or ‘pre-Homo’ creatures or do you close off ‘discontinuity’ as impossible?


John - #56991

April 5th 2011

“Why do you define ‘cognitive behaviour’ as ‘in nature’?”

Jim didn’t do anything of the sort.


Gregory - #56992

April 5th 2011

“behavior that is directly cognitive in nature: the use of stone tools”


John - #56994

April 5th 2011

Gregory, he’s saying that the nature of the behavior is cognitive.


Gregory - #57000

April 5th 2011

Right, iow, he speaks like a ‘naturalistic anthropologist.’ I.e. an anthropologist who studies ‘nature-only,’ & nothing more.

Cognition = natural. (according to biological anthropology?)

Stone tools = natural. (according to biological anthropology?)

Killing in the name of ______ = natural? (according to biological anthropology?)

‘Kind,’ ‘type,’ ‘aspect,’ ‘example’ - these are *all* suitable to dislocate one of the emptiest phrases still around today: ‘the nature of’. The problem is: the self-promoting naturalists. Almost everything to them is ‘natural,’ including ‘cognition.’ They don’t like (understatement!) to speak of ‘non-natural things.’

Sorry guys, I don’t want *your* naturalistic language in my fields, please and thanks. Keep it out! I push back properly at your exaggerations & false metaphorical ladder climbing (hey, folks, why not apply lower order principles to higher orders?). & there are many others out there willing to correct your over-usages; I’m just a lone voice doing it here.

Spent any time reading ‘philosophy of mind,’ John? It would be pretty telling if you are not aware of the significance of suggesting that ‘cognition’ is ‘natural’.

Cognition in human beings suggests personality, character and ‘imago Dei.’ Nothing that James (or John) speaks about addresses these things (but then again, we haven’t reached Homo in his series yet). Yet this position is consistent with all 3 Abrahamic religions.


Jon Garvey - #57028

April 6th 2011

Gregory, you may be a little picky with Jim’s use of “nature” in a broad colloquial sense rather than in contrast to “supra-nature”. And maybe also a little unfair to pin him down on ideology in what is, after all, a series on the biology of hominins.

However, I believe you’re right to alert us to drawing lines in the right places when the very issues which Biologos sets out to address are the interface between the scientific and the religious - ie “nature” and “supernature”.

For this reason, though I sympathise with Jim’s task in finding the best words, one needs to pick up on words like “cognition,” since they are (like “altruism”) often used differently and carry baggage.

To social psychologists, “cognition” echoes with Piaget’s work, which was very clearly and exclusively about humans. Indeed, in my Piaget interest group at Cambridge a quiz showed his “highest” level of human cognition to exclude all but one of the group! So it would certainly exclude Australapithecus, tools and all.

Yet “animal cognition” is a recognised field in animal psychology, so by their definitions it would be odd if A. didn’t show evidence of cognition.

Clearly if Jim’s words mean anything, it’s in the area of “definitely human”, but it’s speculation to equate in any way with “that which makes us special before God,” the only point at issue in the end. (...)


Gregory - #56977

April 5th 2011

Thanks to someone on this list for sending me back to Dobzhansky, as I came across this in my notes:

Biologism: “The extension of biological concepts, models, and theories to other fields, for example, the explanation of social phenomena in humans using biological templates.” - Franz M. Wuketits (1990)

What are the capabilities and the limits of ‘biological anthropology’ in speaking about ‘human beings’? It would be helpful to hear something about this from James in order to be able put into context what he is saying about pre-human ‘races’ or ‘species’ (as James writes) up to now.


Jon Garvey - #57029

April 6th 2011

(...)
We can only recognise the key issues like sense of self-identity, moral sense, ability to recognise God and relate to him, and all those important things, by direct interaction with people, or maybe by their writings.

Even artifacts as complex as art or apparent ritual are subject to interpretation in the light of possibly faulty analogy with our own experience. For example, the association of cave art with shamanism has been rightly challenged for reading too much back into a very different culture. “Fertility goddesses” may well be pin-ups or, at most, magic charms rather than objects of worship. We just don’t know, because the makers are dead and could not write. Before writing, deep human psychology is unknowable.

So without defining not only biologically, but psychologically, socially and spiritually, what “human” means, citing the increasing similarity of hominins to ourselves to conclude, at any point, “Look, they’re becoming us” is as specious as concluding that the Carthaginians were Christians because they knew about crucifixion.


Jimpithecus - #57040

April 6th 2011

Gregory has a good point here in that we cannot often read into what the people were thinking when they made the tools and what their possible uses might have been.  This is what got Francois Bordes and Lewis Binford arguing about the Mousterian in Europe.  The point that I am making is that, regardless of what they were thinking when they made the tools, they were thinking


John - #57066

April 6th 2011

Jon:

“We can only recognise the key issues like sense of self-identity, moral sense, ability to recognise God and relate to him, and all those important things, by direct interaction with people, or maybe by their writings.”

Do human infants do any of those things?

John - #57106

April 6th 2011

But what isn’t specious is the hilarious disagreement between evolution deniers in classifying particular fossils as ape vs human.


Gregory - #57055

April 6th 2011

Thanks Jon, yes you’ve helped to explain the point I was making in several ways better than I could, also giving examples. & yes, I am focussed on James’ ideology because it is *that* important on this topic. I am of the view that ‘biological’ anthropologists should declare their worldview in the introduction to any work they write, to help with clarity & as a sign of responsibility to their readers. such is the tendency for peddling (telling the story in a way that suits one’s own worldview & not someone else’s) ‘facts’ from a prejudiced perspective. Same with OoL - without question! Anyone agree?

For example, James speaks of ‘people.’ But I don’t think those are ‘people’ he’s studying. This comes from someone who regularly studies *whole* people, not just their biological humanity or their ‘dead bones’. If James let his worldview show, he would not be able to escape that he believes human beings are created ‘imago Dei,’ that God has breathed into our ‘living bones,’ while this is not said about *any* other creature in Scripture. None of that has yet been mentioned.

Would Dr. Kidder please define what counts as a ‘person’ for us, and when (if) the term ‘pre-person’ is suitable for non-human hominins? Otherwise, I find his statement about ‘people’ vacuous & he should stop using this term as if it has pre-human ‘biological anthropological’ meaning. He is obscuring the differences between humans & non-humans with his language.

Did the person in question who made the tool have a name, James? When did names originate? Not a bio-genetic question.

James, please be serious, 1) you know *nothing* about the thoughts of *any* ancient hominid you study that is found in the fossils. You cannot re-construct a single conversation they had. All you know is the effects (of a tiny bit) of their actions, which in this case is the making of tools (see below).

2) Is ‘thinking’ really the subject of ‘biological anthropology’? I’ve always thought ‘cognition’ to be about ‘more than just biology’ & I am an anthropic scientist. You have made no attempt to define the ‘origin of thinking’ in your degree-centric, process-oriented (iow anti-origins) approach, which weakens what you mean to express when you say ‘they were thinking.’ No, the only thing you can say, Jim, is that ‘they made tools.’

We simply don’t know what they were thinking or even *if* they were thinking. In any case, the parallel between your argument & the IDMs here is quite near. We know there was ‘thinking’ involved because the tools are ‘designed.’ That’s your argument, right?

Do you simply define ‘person’ as ‘one who makes tools’? It is easy to define ‘tool-making’ as a non-essential part of being human. Sure, human beings make tools & pre-humans made simple tools also. This is not getting at the main issue of concern for most people here, which Jon notes above.

Joseph Campbell says this:
“There is a particular tool that, for me, represents the emergence of a human type of consciousness—the birth, you might say, of the spiritual life such as no animal would ever have invented.” ... “There are two types of human beings. There is the animal human being who is practical and there is the human human being who is susceptible to the allure of beauty which is divinely superfluous. This is the distinction. This is the first germ of a spiritual concern and need, of which the animals knew nothing. Since this tool is larger than what would be practical, the suggestion is that it must have been used in some sort of ritual context. So there is a slight suggestion here of the probability—the possibility, if not the probability—of some sort of ritual action, probably associated with the meat or food that is to be eaten.”


Jimpithecus - #57069

April 6th 2011

Gregory, as I wrote to Dennis above, these are not “people” in the sense that you and I would know them.  They are not anatomically modern Homo sapiens.  But they are not apes, either and if they are creating tools, they have sentient thought.  Do we know what they were thinking?  No, we don’t.  But then again, given the level of disagreement about what Isaac Newton thought about the trinity, I bet we don’t know exactly what he was thinking either.  All we can do is reconstruct their surroundings and tools and infer what they were used for. 

If we find a whole bunch of animal bones with cut marks on them and a whole bunch of tools nearby with meat signatures on them, it is a pretty good bet they were butchering the animals with them.  That is simple reconstruction.  It may not be correct but it is our best assessment. 

I use the word “people” because there is not a better term.  The scientific term is “hominin,” which is what I try to use throughout the article to avoid these disputes.  I am not trying to define the “origin of thinking.”  I am trying to show when the first tool use was because that is a reflection of cognitive thought.  If we make things and leave them behind, even if the people who find them later don’t know exactly what we were thinking, they do know that there was conscious thought that went into the manufacture of those tools.  They don’t make themselves. 


Gregory - #57079

April 6th 2011

“these are not “people” in the sense that you and I would know them.  They are not anatomically modern Homo sapiens.” - James Kidder

I’m beginning to think you & I have VERY different meanings when we speak about ‘people.’ I do not sound like a ‘naturalist’ one iota & it sounds like you are playing the naturalist/natural-physical anthropologist role. Your view in this series is limited to ancient human (not yet) & pre-human biology. I am speaking about something much bigger within (& beyond) each of us as ‘persons’ than that. 

when you get to ‘humans,’ we’ll be faced with ‘culture’ and I hope you may humbly dwindle the biological anthropological relevance with hints at the ‘more’ that is contained outside of that ‘biological’ field.

“If we make things and leave them behind, even if the people who find them later don’t know exactly what we were thinking, they do know that there was conscious thought that went into the manufacture of those tools. They don’t make themselves.” - Dr. Kidder

Yes, agreed, & that spells BINGO! - a (bio-)anthropological ‘intelligent design’ theory suitable for ‘humans making things’ today & in the past.

“I am trying to show when the first tool use was because that is a reflection of cognitive thought.” - Dr. Kidder

Funny, I thought that was what ‘cultural anthropology’ studied. (*please, for those who may suggest otherwise, I am an advocate of interdisciplinary works. another point there remains - biosphere vs. noosphere.) Tools are not simply ‘biological’ things, but artificial things, i.e. artefacts of human creation/construction. When does the ‘natural selection’ end and the ‘human selection’ or ‘artificial selection’ begin?

That bridge you see over there (imaginging…), built with human-made tools, did not ‘evolve’ into existence based on ‘natural selection,’ completely determined in its ‘creation.’ It is another level entirely, which cannot be ‘reduced’ to a mere biological explanation (which in the end will give such a very small percentage of knowledge in the ‘meaning’ of that bridge & how it was built, who built it, with what, etc.). Why do you suggest otherwise with ‘pre-human made things’? 

In general, how do you presume to jump so easily from biology to tools (or brain to mind, mind to personality)? I credit you, James, with the challenge as this is not easy stuff!


Dennis - #57092

April 6th 2011

You know as well as I do that the use of tools does not prove human, pre human or evolving human behavior. River otters use tools to feed themselves. Show me one (1) example of evolution where information has been gained not lost. Macroevolution is unprovable because is it false and relies on too many assumptions.


Gregory - #57059

April 6th 2011

“We simply don’t know what they were thinking or even *if* they were thinking.” - Gregory

Self-clarification: we don’t know *if* they were thinking…in the way that human beings do.

To say they were/did is dangerously close to if not intentionally an anachronism.


John - #57132

April 6th 2011

Gregory:

“Spent any time reading ‘philosophy of mind,’ John?”

Yes, Gregory. Have YOU spent any time reading any relevant neuroscience, even anything as accessible as Sacks?

Do you know that philosophy of mind is a common subject covered in undergraduate neuroscience courses? Are any philosophy departments covering neuroscience?

Why is it that biologists Gould and Lewontin have already covered the ground you are claiming, using a nonconfusing term (adaptationism) and much more wit and grace than you use?

Why don’t you cite their seminal work, Gregory? Because you’d be tacitly admitting that the biologists beat you to it?

“It would be pretty telling if you are not aware of the significance of suggesting that ‘cognition’ is ‘natural’.”

Jim didn’t make any claim to that effect, as I, Jim, and Jon have pointed out.

Jimpithecus - #57137

April 6th 2011

Thank you, John.  What I am suggesting is that the things that
Australopithecus afarensis did require a certain level of cognition that
is not present in ANY other species of animal on the planet.  Is it
human thought?  Not human in our sense, but cognitive, nonetheless. 


Gregory - #57139

April 6th 2011

John,

This seeming pressure you seek to impose upon me about ‘adaptationism’ is misplaced. It is a topic mainly for biologists (& other natural scientists) & doesn’t interest me much. Jon made this point to you already in the other thread, but you seem to have ignored it.

As it is, I cited an interesting published dialogue between Lewontin (plus coauthor) & W. Runcimann on the topic ‘Does Culture Evolve?” a few weeks ago (i.e. before you raised Gould/Lewontin & supposed I was speaking about ‘adaptationism’ when in fact I was not). Gould is not such a big figure for me either, though I’ve read some of his papers. but it makes sense that he would be important for you.

My challenge is generally to ‘universal evolutionism’ (& specifically to *all* uses of ‘evolution’ in human-social sciences, e.g. the realm of values, beliefs, morals, ethics, ideas, choices, etc.). I have made no target of ‘adaptationism’ & do not wish to do so at this time. You might want to check out the debates over ‘selectionism’ too, John.

But I’m still missing the point of your argument, if there was one. Is it that I should drop my work outside of biology and rush to a beaker laboratory or into philosophy of biology in order to wrestle with ‘adaptationism’ (which seems already to have been wrestled)? Sounds fun, but I’ll pass.

No, it wouldn’t surprise me, John, if you’d had no more than an undergrad course in philosophy of mind, if that’s what you are suggesting. It shows. I’m not going to quote what Jim wrote a third time. Why not read again the sentence by Jim that I highlighted & also Jon’s words ( #57028&9) about ‘cognition’. Your usual reductionism here is badly placed.

One question to James: is there anything in your view that is ‘supernatural’, ‘supranatural’ or ‘non-natural’ about Australopithecus afarensis? I can think of many ‘non-natural’ things about human beings, but as you said, these are not humans. It makes me wonder what a biological anthropological view says. 

‘Not human, but cognitive’ - I can live with that. (Just please be careful with ‘the nature of’ & cognates, because as soon as you start talking about humans, our ‘nature’ & our ‘nature-plus’ are important to distinguish.) Thanks, James.


John - #57145

April 6th 2011

Gregory:

“This seeming pressure you seek to impose upon me about ‘adaptationism’ is misplaced. It is a topic mainly for biologists (& other natural scientists) & doesn’t interest me much.”

Is that what passes for ethical scholarship in your field, Gregory? The primary case of adaptationism critiqued by Gould & Lewontin was from the social sciences:

”...anthropologist Michael Harner has proposed (1977) that Aztec human sacrifice arose as a solution to chronic shortage of meat (limbs of victims were often consumed, but only by people of high status). E. O. Wilson (1978) has used this explanation as a primary illustration of an adaptive, genetic predisposition for carnivory in humans. Harner and Wilson ask us to view an elaborate social system and a complex set of explicit justifications involving myth, symbol, and tradition as mere epiphenomena generated by the Aztecs as an unconscious rationalization masking the “real” reason for it all: need for protein.”

Amazing. This is precisely the error you have renamed.

Gregory - #57148

April 6th 2011

Talk about a desperate act!

You’ve got to be kidding me, John. So, now you’re blaming ‘adaptationism’ on a USAmerican anthropologist who is now a Shaman? How many out of ten people today who would wish to discuss ‘adaptationism’ are anthropologists vs. biologists? My ‘mainly’ point remains, while John can go shoot adaptation arrows at someone else.

Should we start slinging ‘you’re unethical!’ charges at each other now, like 10yr old boys?!

John detests discussing ‘evolutionism’ because he simply doesn’t see/recognize it, while sitting neck deep in it. So, he wants to discuss ‘adaptationism’ instead & now to blame anthropology for it. Oops, & where did the anthropologists get it from - they got it from Darwinian lexicon too!

It’s just a bad time to be a biologist when people are showing how exaggerative & unknowledgeable biologists (like E.O. Wilson) can be when they step outside of their narrow specialities. If it bothers you that I detect these things, John, then you should step to the plate & have some courage to challenge your fellow biologists when they do this.

Where is John’s critique of sociobiology (now he is citing E.O. Wilson)? Because it takes some of the hot air out of biology too, John won’t make a critique like an honest biologist should. But I won’t say what that makes John according to his own words(/standards?), because to me that would rude.


John - #57153

April 7th 2011

Gregory:
“Where is John’s critique of sociobiology (now he is citing E.O. Wilson)?”

Gregory, do you not understand the meaning of quotation marks? I am quoting from the paper that you are either unaware of (incompetence) or refuse to cite (lack of fundamental academic ethics) because it reveals that you are rebadging the adaptationism described and demolished 32 years ago.

Which is it, or is it both?

I’m not citing Wilson, you goof!


Jimpithecus - #57180

April 7th 2011

Gregory writes: “One question to James: is there anything in your view that is
‘supernatural’, ‘supranatural’ or ‘non-natural’ about Australopithecus
afarensis
? I can think of many ‘non-natural’ things about human beings,
but as you said, these are not humans. It makes me wonder what a
biological anthropological view says. “

We can choose to see the wonders of God’s creation or not but one of the consistent struggles in the Christian life is finding God in day-to-day activities.  The evidence that we have of the australopithecines such as Lucy is evidence of day-to-day life.  It is supernatural in the sense that their activities are God-created and God-maintained just like our activities are.  Biological anthropological view states that these were hominins on our side of the last common ancestor split with the higher apes and that these hominins are showing evidence of tool use—no more, no less. 


John - #57147

April 6th 2011

“Secondly, we have a “heritable” form of non-Darwinian adaptation in humans (and, in rudimentary ways, in a few other advanced social species): cultural adaptation (with heritability imposed by learning). Much confused thinking in human sociobiology arises from a failure to distinguish this mode from Darwinian adaptation based on genetic variation. Finally, we have adaptation arising from the conventional Darwinian mechanism of selection upon genetic variation. The mere existence of a good fit between organism and environment is insufficient for inferring the action of natural selection.”


Citing the relevant literature apparently doesn’t interest Gregory much because it would reveal that biologists identified the flaw he wants to paint all biologists with 32 years ago. It also has a descriptive name that Gregory would like to replace with a confusing one.

Better to pretend that this famous paper just isn’t applicable to social science, eh?

Gregory - #57149

April 6th 2011

“biologists identified the flaw he wants to paint all biologists with 32 years ago.” - John

Do you mean by “the flaw” the ideology of ‘adaptationism’, John? No, it is of little importance to me which biologists are adaptationists today & which (the majority) are not. That is not what I am speaking about, though it may be easier for you to think about my message through it (which of course highly distorts it, but at least may allow you an honest taste) because you currently don’t have any other tools available to you to make an analysis.

As if it needs to be repeate: I am talking about something different than ‘adaptationism’! Do you understand my English in the bolded sentence? Please respond: Yes or No, John?

This is actually a revealing conversation. John-the-biologist simply will not acknowledge ‘evolutionism.’ Maybe something mutated in his brain & he is deficient of ability to understand the extra-biological observation of ‘evolutionism’? He wants to dictate to others what they *may* think and thus to banish from OUR conversation the ideology of ‘evolutionism.’ As you all know, I continue to reveal it, which perhaps frustrates him because John really wants my focus on ‘evolutionism’ to disappear!

Or it could be just his rude persistence at trying to pick a fight with me because I’ve written more than once to clarify that he is the one here interested in the ideology of ‘adaptationism,’ while instead I am focussing on the ideology of ‘evolutionism’. Everyone understands this surely except for John!

My questions to Dr. James Kidder about his views & language still stand.

p.s. this entire line of offense from John and insistence on speaking about adaptationism is completely off-topic. Welcome Moderator on my part to delete it (as long as you don’t leave his misplaced questions open as if unanswered).


Jon Garvey - #57161

April 7th 2011

@John - #57066

“Do human infants do any of those things?”

Quite right John - just as I said, we cannot know because we cannot talk to them and they cannot write for us. Yet we regard their destruction as the murder of a human.

So there are two possibilities:
(a) These things are not observed because infants are not fully human and our scruples are misplaced. By the same token Australopithecines and all pre-historic hominins would have to be be regarded as non-human for the same reasons.
or (b) Overtly human characteristics are indeed present in infants, though not observed, and our scruples are on the valid basis that infants are humans-in-development: the main evidence for humanity is the emergence of the sentient child.* The same argument, of course, cannot be applied to hominins because no such evidence emerges.

Therefore we can at best be agnostic about those who cannot communicate with us, but have much better inferential reasons for regarding children as human than we do fossil remains. As if any sensible person would doubt the matter.

*Though a second line of evidence is that like begets like: even a mentally disabled child has fully human parents.


John - #57251

April 7th 2011

Gregory:

“As if it needs to be repeate: I am talking about something different than ‘adaptationism’!Do you understand my English in the bolded sentence? Please respond: Yes or No, John?”

Gregory, bolding your text, whining, and stamping your feet don’t do anything to distinguish the two. If you really believe that you’re doing something other than a marketing scam, you should take the time to articulate the alleged differences.

Here are the differences I see:

1) Gould & Lewontin criticized assumptions without evidence, particularly in the social sciences. You’re just trying to smear whole disciplines.

2) Gould & Lewontin gave the ideology a clear descriptive name. You have renamed it, apparently to appeal to evolution deniers. Moreover, since Darwin is not the same thing as evolution, the two terms you’ve chosen can’t possibly describe the same thing. You appear to be obfuscating as a sales tool.

3) You are trying to claim that biologists in general are cluelessly ideological, so you omit the historical context because don’t want your audience to know the truth: that this ideological danger was identified by two famous evolutionary biologists who couldn’t possibly be labeled in your terminology as “anti-Darwinists.”


John - #57252

April 7th 2011

Gregory:

“This is actually a revealing conversation. John-the-biologist simply will not acknowledge ‘evolutionism.’”

Yet here I am, revealing that your “evolutionism” is just a rebadging of adaptationism applied indiscriminately.

“Maybe something mutated in his brain & he is deficient of ability to understand the extra-biological observation of ‘evolutionism’?”

Gregory, you don’t want people to know that adaptationism was noted and criticized intra-biologically before you were born.

“He wants to dictate to others what they *may* think and thus to banish from OUR conversation the ideology of ‘evolutionism.’”

What makes you think that? I’m just insisting on providing the proper historical context that you omit. Please tell us how you differ from G&L, but at least have the decency to cite their contribution.

“As you all know, I continue to reveal it, which perhaps frustrates him because John really wants my focus on ‘evolutionism’ to disappear!”

Yet here I am discussing your focus on “evolutionism” as a sloppy rebranding of adaptationism!

“...I’ve written more than once to clarify that he is the one here interested in the ideology of ‘adaptationism,’ while instead I am focussing on the ideology of ‘evolutionism’.”

But your assertions, even in bold, don’t clarify and aren’t evidence.

“p.s. this entire line of offense from John and insistence on speaking about adaptationism is completely off-topic. Welcome Moderator on my part to delete it (as long as you don’t leave his misplaced questions open as if unanswered).”

I can see why you don’t want people to see it.


Dennis - #57254

April 7th 2011

http://www.trueorigin.org/geocolumn.asp
about the geological column


John - #57257

April 7th 2011

Gregory:

“Spent any time reading ‘philosophy of mind,’ John?”

Me: “Yes, Gregory. Have YOU spent any time reading any relevant neuroscience, even anything as accessible as Sacks? Do you know that philosophy of mind is a common subject covered in undergraduate neuroscience courses? Are any philosophy departments covering neuroscience?”

Gregory, not answering my question, moved the goalposts:
“No, it wouldn’t surprise me, John, if you’d had no more than an undergrad course in philosophy of mind, if that’s what you are suggesting.”

What I wrote was plain as day. I answered your question truthfully and asked one of you. 

I find your (and Rich’s) emphasis on coursework to be amusing. Unlike you, my PhD was not the apogee of my career. Unlike you, I study and function in multiple disciplines. 

I brought up undergraduate neuroscience to point out that biologists are learning more about philosophy than philosophers are learning about biology. Just to show you the silliness of your resort to coursework, I’ve never taken a course in neuroscience, but that hasn’t stopped me from publishing in J. Neurosci. and Neuron. Nor did it prevent me from reviewing neuroscience grants for NIH and NSF. You have a bizarre concept of scholarship.

“It shows. I’m not going to quote what Jim wrote a third time. Why not read again the sentence by Jim that I highlighted & also Jon’s words ( #57028&9) about ‘cognition’. Your usual reductionism here is badly placed.”

I will quote them:
”…with A. afarensis that we have the first evidence of behavior that is directly cognitive in nature: the use of stone tools.” - James

“Jim didn’t do anything of the sort.” -John

“Gregory, you may be a little picky with Jim’s use of “nature” in a broad colloquial sense rather than in contrast to “supra-nature”. And maybe also a little unfair to pin him down on ideology in what is, after all, a series on the biology of hominids.”-Jon

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