Ancient humans are not all that ancient


According to researchers at Oxford University, a number of human1 skeletal remains are not nearly as old as had been previously claimed.

Professor Reiner Protsch von Zieten had calculated that skeletal remains found in Hahnofersand were 36,000 years old.2 He has carbon-dated3 hundreds of bone finds from Europe and Africa since the 1970s. However, recently many of von Zieten’s estimates have been called into question. Anthropologists Thomas Terberger and Martin Street decided to check the authenticity of von Zieten’s finds using modern techniques at Oxford University. According to Mr. Street, “It was a routine examination and in no way an attempt to discredit Prof. von Zieten.”

The carbon dating laboratory at Oxford University has indicated that the skeletal remains date to 7,500 years oldfar more recent than von Zieten’s estimate, and much closer to the biblical timescale. Street and Terberger describe this discrepancy as a “dating disaster.”

It now appears that many of Prof. von Zieten’s carbon dating estimates are vastly inflated. For example, Oxford scientists now believe that the “Bischof-Speyer” skeleton is actually only 3,300 years old, rather than 21,300 years old as von Zieten had estimated.  Additionally, a skull discovered near Paderborn in 1976 was dated by von Zieten to be 27,400 years old. This skull was considered to be the oldest human skeletal remains found in the region. But the newer study indicates that the skull belonged to a man who died as recently as 1750.

What conclusions can we draw from this “dating disaster?”

First, these new date estimates remind us that no fossil dating method is infallible. Carbon dating is very supportive of a young earth and never gives age estimates of millions or billions of years (contrary to what many people think). Nonetheless, carbon dating is not infallible because it (like all dating methods) makes some assumptions that cannot be tested. It is therefore not surprising that dating methods often give inaccurate4 or contradictory5 results.

Second, this dating dilemma reminds us of the tentative nature of “origins science.” Origins science attempts to reconstruct past events using information in the present. But the past is gone, and is no longer accessible to direct observation and experimentation. The past cannot be repeated or studied in a laboratory. So, we should not be surprised that ideas about the past change from time to time—such as the supposed age of a fossil. This is particularly so when ideas about the past are based on the incorrect worldview of evolution and millions of years. Of course, the only way to know about the past with certainty is to consult a history book. The Bible is such a history book and gives us the true account of origins. It never changes because God got it right the first time.

Published: 7 February 2006

References and notes

  1. This includes both modern Homo sapien as well as Neandertal. Return to text.
  2. “Neanderthal Man ‘never walked in northern Europe,’” Telegraph, U.K. News, Aug. 22, 2004. Return to text.
  3. For information on carbon dating see What about carbon dating? Return to text.
  4. See Radio-dating in Rubble. Return to text.
  5. See Dating dilemma: fossil wood in ‘ancient’ sandstone. Return to text.