That pig of a man didn’t fool everyone!
Riots in Egypt were a feature of 1921. So was Greece’s disregard of the League of Nations when it waged war on Turkey on 14 October. By Christmas of the same year the Irish Free State was set up by Peace Treaty with Britain.
Amid such history-making world events of 1921, over in Snake Creek quarry in western Nebraska, USA, geologist Harold J. Cook was quietly studying the Pliocene rock beds in Sioux County. Nothing very newsworthy here.
Then on Saturday, 25 February 1922, Cook contacted Dr Henry F. Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. ‘I have had here, for some little time,’ Cook told Osbon, ‘a molar tooth from the upper or Hipparion beds, that very closely approaches the human type.’1 When Osborn received the tooth, he excitedly dashed off a note to Cook. ‘The instant your package arrived’, he said, ‘I sat down with the tooth, in my window, and I said to myself: It looks one hundred per cent anthropoid … . We may cool down tomorrow, but it looks to me as if the first anthropoid ape of America had been found’.2
But the next day there was no cooling down. A leading tooth authority, Dr W.K. Gregory, declared that Osborn was right. He agreed that the Nebraskan tooth was an upper molar from an anthropoid. They believed this indicated the first find of man’s ancestors in America.
In April 1922 Osborn proudly presented the tooth to the world. The Illustrated London News of 24 June published articles, illustrations, and ‘a pedigree of the human family’ drawn up by experts. It gave pride of place to this new genus called Hesperopithecus (which the report said meant ‘ape-man of the Western world’). The species name became haroldcookii, after its discoverer. Artist A. Forestier drew an elaborate and imaginative reconstruction of this creature in the ancient wild, which was featured as a double-page spread in The Illustrated London News.3
The Illustrated London News in 1922 featured an artists's impression of the newly discovered ‘ape-man’ Hesperopithecus (‘Nebraska man’). The whole scene was imaginary—all that had been found was what turned out to be nothing more than a pig’s tooth.
The detailed sketch showed two hesperopithecines looking like some kind of club-wielding missing links. Extinct animals lined the artist’s landscape. One hesperopithecine was shown crouching after seemingly catching an extinct rodent by hand. The artist had supplied the shape of the creatures’ ears and nose, hair, type of tool being used … all imagined from a single, rather worn, tooth. ‘Unlike Columbus,’ the report said, ‘Hesperopithecus is believed to have reached America by land, travelling from Asia by “a land bridge enjoying a warm climate”.’
Yet there was something peculiar and puzzling about this ‘anthropoid’ molar. It bore some resemblance to a tooth of a chimpanzee, it had features reminiscent of another disputed ‘apeman’ tooth, and some similarity to the molars of man. But it clearly differed from them all. One authority in fact thought the tooth belonged to an extinct bear.4 Another to an extinct horse.5 Some others, including well-known British anatomist Professor Grafton Elliot Smith, gave complete support to Osborn’s anthropoid identification. Sir Arthur Keith, who was allegedly exposed in 1990 as the perpetrator of the Piltdown fraud, withheld final judgment. But he said he doubted ’the primate nature’ of this ‘Nebraska man.’6
There was certainly no general agreement about the apeman status of this tooth. For one thing, its crown was very worn. The dentine was exposed on its central area, and it had only imperfect cusps, making it difficult to identify. Keith said of the cusps: ‘They have undergone certain retrogressive changes which are most frequently seen in third molar teeth, the least reliable when we come to estimate affinity.’ 7
Conflict among experts
Despite this substantial doubt and conflict of opinion among the experts of the day, the public clearly had been led to think that Hesperopithecus, ‘Nebraska man’, was a major evolutionary discovery. Here indeed seemed proof that a creature on the evolutionary path to humanity once lived in ancient America. After looking at the family scene created by The Illustrated London News artist, could any average reader doubt the testimony of this tooth? By 1925, Osborn said that ‘every suggestion made by scientific sceptics was weighed and found wanting.’8 Was Osborn right?
To shine more light on the controversy, a fossil-hunter named Thompson headed off to the Snake Creek quarry where Harold Cook had found the original tooth. He was on the trail of more specimens of ‘Nebraska man’.
It was not long before Thompson had accumulated several teeth like Cook’s original. Some of these were in much better condition and were quite unworn. There was no doubt they had come from the same creature as had Cook’s. There was also no doubt now that they had not come from either a man or an ape. They were all shown to have come from the jaw of an extinct pig!9
‘Nebraska man’ was not accepted by many of the leading experts who studied it, or its cast, at the time. Yet the public was given the impression that this tooth was a major piece of evidence for evolution.
It hardly needs to be pointed out that this pig’s tooth incident could not fool anyone who does not believe in evolution—either then or now. A burning desire to prove evolution or disprove God’s creation is what leads otherwise intelligent scientists and skeptics to fail to question evolutionary assumptions adequately. But faith in the Creator-God of the Bible and His Word, which tells us that man and all other major kinds of creatures were created—they did not evolve—is the Creation 13(2) antidote to being taken in by such astounding evolutionary claims.
There is no indisputable evidence that man has ever evolved from apelike creatures. ‘Nebraska man’ is merely one warning to all not to accept evolutionary interpretations as evolutionary facts.
- Sir Arthur Keith, The Antiquity of Man, Vol. II, Williams and Norgate, London, p. 475, 1925.
- The Illustrated London News, 24 June 1922, pp. 942–3.
- Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, Nature, Vol. cix, p. 750, 1922.
- Professor Schlosser, in Zittel’s Grundzuge der Palaeontologie, 1923 (cited in Keith’s Antiquity of Man, p. 476).
- Ref. l, p. 476.
- John Reader, Missing Links, Book Club Associates/William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, London, p. 110, 1981.