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Ardipithecus again

Photo: Suwa, et al., Science 326(5949), 2 October 2009, DOI: 10.1126/science.1175825.

Ardipithecus ramidus

Ardipithecus ramidus skull. It seems that the latest round of papers published represent painstaking efforts to establish its anatomical parameters as precisely as possible. But such a heavily fragmented, incomplete skull, for example, leaves a lot of room for speculation and interpreter bias. Its brain volume was estimated to be even smaller than that of a chimp.

A recycled ape-man

by

Published: 5 October 2009(GMT+10)

The papers and news sites are full of claims about what some still think is a “new” candidate for an evolutionary ancestor of humans. Called Ardipithecus ramidus (often just “Ardi”), most of the articles actually explain that it’s really a detailed reanalysis of a fossil category that’s been around for years, but still the phones run hot with concerned creationists or gloating skeptics. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the journalistic temptation to run with headlines such as “Before Lucy came Ardi, new earliest hominid found”—even though the article itself states that the bones were first discovered in 1994!1 In fact, though there is a lot of evolutionary spin, especially in the media, so far there have been few claims of this “proving evolution”, it is more a question of trying to score points and settle internal issues within the community of already-established “true believers” in human evolution.

We normally avoid kneejerk hasty responses, but having already written in some detail on this same Ardipithecus over the space of 15 years, we thought that visitors to creation.com should at least have this quick-response “in the news” item (not intended to be a detailed analysis) on the big picture, and especially pointing them to those previous papers so as to be able to better understand what is being reported.

We suggest that before reading on, you click through to and carefully read Dr Jonathan Sarfati’s 2001 Journal of Creation article on this creature, which was on the cover of Time magazine that year: see Time’s alleged ape-man trips up (again)!

Most readers of the headlines would be unaware of the way in which the fossil bits and pieces were scattered over a distance greater than 1½ kilometres!

Though an enormous amount of work has now gone into piecing together and analyzing the find, most readers of the headlines would be unaware of the way in which the fossil bits and pieces were scattered over a distance greater than 1½ kilometres! See Dr Don Batten’s 1994 report in Journal of Creation, Australopithecus ramidus—‘the missing link’? Note that the names of both the Journal (then TJ) and the creature (then Australopithecus, later Ardipithecus) have changed since. But it’s the same find as the one now in the headlines.

The latest claims made include that Ardipithecus is more dissimilar to both apes and humans than previously thought. For someone already believing in evolution, this reinforces the fairly non-controversial conclusion that if Ardipithecus is on the human line, then humans did not evolve from a chimp-like ancestor, but rather from a common ancestor that is unlike both humans and chimps today. Even if I were an evolution-believer, this is hardly the sort of stuff that justifies statements such as “reverses the common wisdom of human evolution”.2

Location map showing where the A. Ramidus fossil remains
                were found

Location map showing where the original A. Ramidus fossil remains were found () in Aramis and Adgantoli catchments of the Middle Awash area of Ethiopia. Click to enlarge.

Our writings in this ministry have already pointed out for years, referring to the detailed work of evolutionist anatomists such as Charles Oxnard, that there is a broad group of fossil creatures, now extinct, that is more dissimilar to both modern apes and modern humans than these are to each other. Oxnard’s conclusion was that australopithecines (the main constituents of this group) were not in the human line. We agree with him, not surprisingly. Ardipithecus appears to belong to this group as well; in fact, when the highly fragmented specimen was first discovered in the mid 1990s, it was originally put into that same genus, and called Australopithecus ramidus. Tim White, director of the Human Evolution Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, says that Ardipithecus is not the common ancestor of apes and humans. But, he says, “it’s the closest we have ever been able to come”.

Did Ardi possess features which indicate a more upright stance than modern apes? Quite possibly, even likely. But then, so did the australopithecines/habilines. And both groups also possessed features making them suited for life in the trees as well. And CT scans of australopithecine skulls show that the organs of balance (the ‘semi-circular canals”) were positioned in ways quite different from that required for a creature that walks habitually upright.

In short, the significance of Ardi can be interpreted within either an evolutionary or creationist framework, and the latest analyses of these recycled bones and claims would appear to add no weight at all to the claims of either side. As cited elsewhere, a 1995 Nature article stated that it was “possible that Australopithecus [now Ardipithecus] ramidus is neither an ancestor of humanity, nor of chimpanzees … ”.3 And indications are that nothing has really changed since then.

A 1995 Nature article stated that it was ‘possible that [Ardipithecus] is neither an ancestor of humanity, nor of chimpanzees …’…. nothing has really changed since then.

A detailed article in CMI’s Journal of Creation (then still called TJ) by Dr Joseph Mastropaolo was called An objective ancestry test for fossil bones and concerned a statistical anatomical analysis of Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba (a subspecies of the one being paraded at present) bones. The summary paragraph is worth quoting in full:

In summary, the results of this objective statistical study suggest that the AME-VP-1/71 bone had scant similarity to human bone, was dissimilar to baboon bone and was most dissimilar to chimpanzee bone. The baboon bone was similar to the chimpanzee and dissimilar to human bone. The chimpanzee was most dissimilar to humans. Human bone had no similarity to monkey or ape bone. Therefore, these objective ancestry analyses for fossil bones suggest that the conclusion of Haile-Selassie and Robinson, that Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba was an ancestor of apes and humans that walked on two legs, is farfetched speculation.

For further information on alleged apemen (which fall into the same broad categories each time) and how to deal with the next “newspaper splash” in your own thinking and that of your acquaintances, spend some time in the Q and A pages on apemen on creation.com—and spread the word. Get people onto solid publications like the Journal of Creation—and help arm and equip God’s people against the onslaught of all this sort of hype!

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References

  1. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091001/ap_on_sc/us_sci_before_lucy , AP report, 1 October 2009 Return to text.
  2. Ref. 1, citing C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University. Return to text.
  3. Gee, H., Uprooting the human family tree, Nature 373(6509):15, 5 January 1995. Return to text.

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