Saturday, October 03, 2015

Homo naledi

The internet has been abuzz regarding a new fossil find, named Homo naledi. What do I make of that?

i) Let's begin with deja vu. Every so often we're treated to the discovery of the missing link. Lots of fanfare. Upon closer examination, it turns out there was far less to the story than meets the eye. It's like fake hate crimes. 

ii) Darwinians know that showing the public skeletal remains isn't very impressive. So what they do is give us a hypothetical reconstruction of what the creature allegedly looked like.

Now, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that. Forensic anthropologists do that sort of thing.

Nevertheless, it's just an "artistic rendering." And it's bound to be prejudicial. You aren't seeing what the creature actually looked like, because we don't know what the creature actually looked like. 

Take the face. Obviously, a skull has no face. So that gives tremendous play to facial reconstruction. It can be made to look more human, protohuman, or apish. 
We've all grown up with imaginative mock-ups of "early man". So when we see a hypothetical reconstruction, that subconsciously conditions us to perceive evidence for human evolution. The fossil is depicted in a way that makes it appear to be an intermediate form: more than a monkey but less than a man.

Again, though, that's prejudicial. Salting the mine. We're not viewing the actual fossil. We're not seeing the raw evidence. Rather, we're seeing a face that's, at best, imaginative guesswork. How much of the transitional appearance is due to artistic imagination? 

For instance, if all we had was the skull of Nefertiti, could we go from that to the famous bust? 

Moreover, the skull was pieced together from fragments of four different skulls. And it's unclear if these even come from the same species. 

iii) Then there's the reconstructed body. That raises the question of what makes a body recognizably human. 

Even in modern-day humans, there's a wide rage of body shapes and sizes. That often reflects environmental adaptations. Likewise, some sports, like pro football and pro basketball, select for extreme body shapes and sizes. 

As I boy I used to read Road & Track and Car & Driver. When commenting on Italian cars, reviewers would quip that Italian cars were made for drivers with long arms and short legs!

More seriously, I once read an interview with a costume designer for The Highlander. She said it was hard to costume Adrian Paul because he didn't have a typical 17C body. Rather, he had a typical mid-20C body. His body shape wasn't suited to period attire. They had to fudge it. 

iv) What did Adam and Eve look like? We don't have much to go on. Assuming that Eden was located in a hot river valley, it would make sense if they had tan skin and dark eyes.  


  1. I find it interesting that the hype on this was so high. Even the people working the site aren't sure how old the bones are. From what I have read it is very difficult to get any sense of the rate of sedimentation or anything.

  2. The simple answer? It's a sure fire way to get some quick publicity, land opportunities for speaking engagements, interviews, and perhaps even grab some funding.

    Follow the money.