Thursday, 13 February 2014

Britain's Oldest Humans.

Oldest human footprints outside Africa found in UK - life - 07 February 2014 - New Scientist

A couple of news stories from Britain in the last few days have given creationists some more things to ignore.

First there was the news that the oldest hominin footprints outside of Africa were found on a beach in Norfolk at Happisburgh (pronounced Haze-bruh) after a severe storm last May wore away the cliff which had been covering them for the past 850,000-950,000 years. We were incredibly lucky that they were spotted and recognised almost immediately because they were washed away by the sea within a few weeks but by then they had been photographed and 12 of the 49 footprints had been analysed in forensic details. One wonders what else is being uncovered on the south and west coast of Britain as we reap the benefits of climate change in the form of massive waves, tidal storm surges and devastating coastal erosion two or three times a week, if only it was safe enough to go and look.

We think there were at least two or three children among them. Three prints came from a single individual who is taller, so we think it's a male. They may have been foraging along the coast of the river for aquatic resources and food.

Isabelle De Groote, John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
The footprints appear to be from five individuals, one of which was taller than the others. Some of them were clearly of children and some of the others may have been female or young males so they were probably made by a foraging family group. At that time Britain was joined to the European mainland and the river Thames turned north, joining with the Seine the Rhine to flow north into the North Sea, so what is now the coast of East Anglia would have been the tidal estuary of this large river. The footprints could have been made in estuarine mud just before it became buried under sand, and later glacial deposits which formed the protective cliff which protected them until last May.

The question is who these hominins were. There were not 'modern' Homo sapiens who were yet to evolve in Africa, nor were they the Neanderthals who had also yet to evolve. (The question has yet to be settled but the general view is that the Neanderthals' most likely ancestor was H. heidelbergensis). The footprints could have been made by H. heidelbergensis but are thought more likely to have been the controversial H. antecessor, the only known fossil of which have been found in Spain. H. antecessor is also something of an enigma. Some think it could have been intermediate between H. ergaster and H. heidelbergensis, whilst others think it may have been a subspecies of H. heidelbergensis or even the same species.

But, whichever hominin they were, there were certainly hominins living in southeast Britain around 8-900,000 years ago. Of that we can be sure. And the picture is beginning to emerge of a widespread and diversifying group of hominins who may well have interbred, as H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis, and H. sapiens and the Denisovans are now known to have done.

Natural History Museum, South Kensington, London
The second story is news that the Natural History Museum, the cathedral to biology in South Kensington, London, UK, now has an exhibition showing the history of humans in Britain. This is on from now until 28 November 2014.

The exhibition is based on the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project, which has pushed the date of the earliest known occupation of Britin by humans from 500,000 to 950,000 years ago, and features reconstructions of human heads by Dutch palaeo-artists and identical twin brothers, Alfons and Adrie Kennis.

A section of the exhibition is dedicated to each of the hominins now known to have inhabited the British Isles, from H. antecessor, H. heidelbergensis, which would have hunted the rhinos, brown bears, hippos and straight-tusked elephants and would have been hunted in turn by the lions, all of which inhabited Britain during a subtropical interglacial period starting about 180,000 years ago and lasting until the last ice-age, up to and including H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens.

Reconstruction of an early modern human, with painting tool in his lips
(Image: The Natural History Museum, London)
But when the ice sheets spread south again, the wildlife either became extinct or went south into mainland Europe, as did the humans. Whatever the cause, and there is little doubt that it was climate change, humans together with the subtropical species, close relatives of which we normally now associate with Africa and South Asia, disappeared from Britain until the ice began to retreat but sea-levels remained low enough for first Neanderthals, and then modern H. sapiens to walk across what is now the southern North Sea starting about 60,000 years ago. For several thousand years two different human species might well have co-existed in Southern Britain.

The migration of various tribes and cultures of modern humans such as the Iberians, Celts, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons is part of modern history compared to the long history of human migration and occupation of Britain by people who may not have been our immediate ancestors but were certainly their close cousins and very probably interbred with them on occasion.

Oh! Almost forgot! The exhibition doesn't have a section telling how everyone was drowned in a flood a few thousand years ago and how the world was then repopulated by descendants of a single surviving family because there is no evidence that it ever happened. It almost goes without saying that the evidence completely rules out the half-baked notion that modern humans were created fully formed a few thousand years ago and have no ancestors from whom they could have evolved. For this reason, creationists who wish to cling on to their belief in magic and Bronze-Age origin myths, and Jehovah's Witnesses who go from door to door looking for vulnerable and gullible people to give them money for books and magazines telling lies about history and science, would probably be well advised to keep away from this exhibition. Cognitive dissonance can be sooo disconcerting.

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1 comment :

  1. It is indeed astonishing to see actual evidence of our ancestors from such distant time ago,but as with fossils this has no relevance to creationists and Proponents of intelligent design for them all the facts are known.
    A very informative and interesting blog,keep up the good work.

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