Hofmeyr man—another African ‘missing link’?
One more human skull in the news
Published: 19 January 2007 (GMT+10)
Well, some journalists are calling it a ‘missing link’, but from the point of view of trying to establish man’s ancestry from apes, it can hardly be an object of enthusiasm for the average evolutionist.
That’s because the discovers themselves are saying it’s fully human, in fact, it’s essentially of the modern type. Dr Alan Morris of the University of Cape Town is part of the international team (headed by Frederick Grine of New York’s Stony Brook University) studying the fossil. He says, "The skull is probably male and is completely modern. If he sat down next to you on the Sea Point bus you would not react, apart from wondering where he came from. He would not look like modern Africans or like modern Europeans, or like modern Khoisan people, but he is definitely a modern human being."1
But it’s worth commenting on, not just because it so clearly is not a ‘missing link’ in the normal sense of the term, but because it gives an opportunity to discuss a related issue.
Called the Hofmeyr skull, after the town in the Karoo region of South Africa where it was discovered, it was actually found decades ago, in the 1950s. It is only after some ‘dating’ by a new technique that researchers got excited.
The skull could not be dated geologically, because it was found in an erosion gully. The ‘date’ by this new technique (a ‘combination of optically stimulated luminescence and uranium-series dating methods, coupled through a radiation-field model’2) is 36,000 years, which puts it in the so-called Pleistocene era in evolutionary dating terms. The authors of the Science paper on the skull state that it ‘lacked sufficient collagen for an accurate age determination’ by the normally very sensitive AMS radiocarbon procedure.2 Unfortunately, no details for this were provided in the accompanying online data, because their wording suggests that there was some collagen, and AMS requires only minuscule amounts of carbon-containing material. It would have been interesting to know whether a C14 date was obtained but discarded as ‘inaccurate’ because it was the ‘wrong date’.3
Why the excitement?
This skull has created interest because it is different to the local Khoisan people, having some affinities with European skulls. It is therefore consistent with one side of the long-running battle between evolutionists holding to either the ‘Out of Africa’ Hypothesis4 or its opposite, the Multiregional Hypothesis5.
Both sides agree that all human types originated in Africa over a million years ago. But the Out of Africa side claim that only some tens to hundreds of thousands of years ago, one population of modern humans emigrated from Africa again, and replaced all of the other human types like erectus, Neandertal, etc. which had left Africa much earlier. The Multiregional proponents claim that humans evolved in parallel in many parts of the earth, such that Europeans have some Neandertal heritage, aboriginal Australians an affinity with the Java erectus skulls, etc.—and of course they acknowledge that there would have been gene flow as the populations contacted each other from time to time, giving rise to the many continuities between geographically diverse populations.
Each side puts forward evidence, from both genetics and fossils, that supports their particular view. But within the long-age evolutionary model, they can’t both be right about what actually happened—hence the many bitter disputes and rivalries. However, in the biblical creation model, the evidence for both can be easily reconciled. Human types like erectus, Neandertal, ‘archaic sapiens’ and ‘moderns’ (like Cro-Magnon) are all part of the range of human variation in the descendants of Adam, after the Flood/Babel.
And since all were human, it is no surprise when someone discovers genetic links between the populations. Nor is it a surprise to find fossil evidence of e.g. Neandertal/modern hybridization.
Finally, in relation to ‘Hofmeyr man’, finding various differing representatives of the range of early post-Flood humanity sharing the same part of the world is no surprise; man was never ‘primitive’ or ‘half-intelligent’, but would have had the same sorts of exploratory and migratory tendencies as we see today.
- Melanie Gosling, SA Heralds Discovery of ‘Missing Link’ 12 January 2007 Return to text.
- F. E. Grine, R. M. Bailey, K. Harvati, R. P. Nathan, A. G. Morris, G. M. Henderson, I. Ribot, A. W. G. Pike, Late Pleistocene Human Skull from Hofmeyr, South Africa, and Modern Human Origins, Science 315(5809):226–229, 12 January 2007. Return to text.
- For an example of the flexibility of the dating game in anthropology, see Lubenow, M., The pigs took it all , Creation 17(3):36–38, 1995. Return to text.
- Also variously known as the ‘Replacement’, ‘Noah’s Ark’, ‘African Eve’ or ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ hypothesis/concept. Return to text.
- Also known as the ‘Candelabra’ model, after the shape of the diagram of one path heading upwards, diverging into several separate paths. However, technically the Multiregional model is a modification of the original candelabra concept, through the addition of gene flow between populations. Return to text.