Saturday, 15 August 2015

Ethiopian Double Whammy For Creationists

Detail of the marks on a fossilized rib bone, one of the two controversial bones.
Source: PastHorizons. Image credit: Zeresenay Alemseged
Taphonomy of fossils from the hominin-bearing deposits at Dikika, Ethiopia - Journal of Human Evolution.

Here's something for creationists to try to fit into their notion of a young Earth and a special one-day creation by magic; a team of palaeoanthropologists led by Jessica Thompson, an assistant professor of anthropology at Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA, believe they have shown that the marks on two 3.4 million year-old fossilised bones found at Dikika, Ethiopia, were made by stone tools, probably when butchering the animals.

Sadly, once again the paper sits behind a paywall and the publishers, this time Elsevier Ltd., want to charge for permission even to reproduce the abstract, which can be read here.

The bones are a long bone from a mammal the size of a medium-sized antelope and a rib bone from a mammal the size of a buffalo. The team believe they have shown that the marks were unlikely to have been caused by trampling.

This claim was first made in a paper published in Nature in 2010 but doubt had been cast on this interpretation of the marks in another paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The team believe they have resolved this conflict. This pushes the use of stone tools to butcher large animals back before not only when Homo sapiens are believed to have evolved but back beyond when the Homo genus itself evolved about 2.6 million years ago. It now looks beyond doubt that Australopithecines made and used stone tools. This is also supported by the finding of stone tools from a similar date in South Africa.

So, what was once believed to define Homo sapiens - the ability to make and use tools - probably doesn't even define the genus to which we belong. We inherited the ability from an earlier genus in our evolutionary tree. Another pillar of creationist anthropocentric arrogance is crumbling before our eyes under the onslaught of science. Few sane people still believe Earth is the center of the Universe any more but a lot of otherwise normal people (at least they seem to be able to function more-or-less normally, albeit having to stop to cast protective spells every once in a while) still believe the Universe is anthropocentric, being made especially for humans just a few thousand years ago and that humans are therefore a special sort of life.

It must be a shock for creationists to discover that we aren't that different to the apes from which we evolved, and that they evolved some of the 'special' abilities they like to imagine are unique to humans and thus evidence that we are somehow different to other animals. A double whammy, indeed.

But, perhaps a creationists would like to try to fit these facts into their one-day creation of humans as we are today, just a few thousand years ago. The first thing will need to be a denial of the age of the fossils, or to try to explain that humans being around 3.4 million years ago is fully consistent with Earth being just a few thousand years old.

Anyone up for it?

Jessica C. Thompson, Shannon P. McPherron, René Bobe, Denné Reed, W. Andrew Barr, Jonathan G. Wynn, Curtis W. Marean, Denis Geraads, Zeresenay Alemseged.
Taphonomy of fossils from the hominin-bearing deposits at Dikika, Ethiopia.
Journal of Human Evolution, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.06.013

See also:
Marks on 3.4-million-year-old bones not due to trampling, analysis confirms - ScienceDaily.
Trampling ruled out on 3.4 million year old bones from Ethiopia - PastHorizons.

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