Sunday, 20 December 2015

Why Science Works - Looking at New Evidence

Homo erectus
Source: Wikipedia
PLOS ONE: A Hominin Femur with Archaic Affinities from the Late Pleistocene of Southwest China

A point that's been made many times before here and elsewhere, but which creationists don't seem to be able to understand, is that science progresses essentially because nothing is ever completely ruled out and new evidence is always carefully examined before being accepted or rejected. If acceptance means we need to revise our previous understanding, then we revise our understanding. It would be a complete absurdity for science to know that there was evidence showing that our understanding was wrong yet to ignore it and pretend it just wasn't there.

This of course is in stark contrast to creationism where loons like Ken Ham are actually admired for dogmatically stating that no evidence can ever contradict what creationists 'know' because creationists 'know' the truth, and they didn't get it from the evidence. This dogma, which of course is essential for people trying to maintain a sacred conclusion with the evidence so strongly against them and being added to all the time, enabled creationists to simply wave aside contradictory evidence and still convince themselves that this intellectual dishonesty is a special virtue which any decent god would appreciate.

Femur MLDG 1678: (A) Anterior view. (B) CT-scan slices at subtrochanteric, approximate half-way and mid-shaft levels. (C) Posterior view. (D) CT-scan slice at approximately mid-coronal plane, grayscale (left) and colour density map (right). (E) Superior view highlighting the overall outline and superior surface of the greater trochanter (anterior at left, lateral at top). (F) CT-scan transverse slices at approximate mid-neck level, grayscale (left) and colour density map (right). (G) Medial view. (H) CT-scan slices in approximate mid-plane, grayscale (left) and colour density map (right). (P = plaster added in 1989 during restoration).*
As though to illustrate this, we have a paper published in PLOS ONE describing a hominid bone found in a cave in Southwest China which appears to show that a species of hominid was living there, alongside modern humans, as recently as 14,000 years ago. It seems to be part of a femur of an species close to the archaic hominids, Homo erectuss or H. habilis which were thought to have become extinct about 2 million years ago. It also seems to be the remains of some sort of ritual cannibalism and burial of the remains, suggesting this archaic hominid could have been preyed on by modern H. sapiens.

The number of Late Pleistocene hominin species and the timing of their extinction are issues receiving renewed attention following genomic evidence for interbreeding between the ancestors of some living humans and archaic taxa. Yet, major gaps in the fossil record and uncertainties surrounding the age of key fossils have meant that these questions remain poorly understood. Here we describe and compare a highly unusual femur from Late Pleistocene sediments at Maludong (Yunnan), Southwest China, recovered along with cranial remains that exhibit a mixture of anatomically modern human and archaic traits. Our studies show that the Maludong femur has affinities to archaic hominins, especially Lower Pleistocene femora. However, the scarcity of later Middle and Late Pleistocene archaic remains in East Asia makes an assessment of systematically relevant character states difficult, warranting caution in assigning the specimen to a species at this time. The Maludong fossil probably samples an archaic population that survived until around 14,000 years ago in the biogeographically complex region of Southwest China.*

The clue that this may be the remains of a cannibal meal is the fact that there are bones of other animals showing signs of having been butchered and cooked in a firem as the hominid femur does, but only the hominid femur has been painted with red ochre, a pigment made from clay which has been associated with ceremonial human burials.

The authors themselve urge caution but, if this find is substantiated, it will add yet another new hominid species to the Asian collection which included H. floresiensis (the 'Hobbit') which may be a dwarf form of H. erectus. It will mean we need to revise our understanding of when these archaic hominids died out and maybe to what extent they interbred with early moderns, since this places them as contemporaneous with early farming in China.

Science will now assess this evidence, look for other evidence with which to falsify of lend support to the new thinking, and adjust it's understanding accordingly, and out knowledge of the human evolutionary tree will advance and get closer to the truth.

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