Oldest tuberculosis claim

Was TB part of the original very-good creation?


A skull of Homo erectus, now recognized as being fully human.

An international team of researchers found evidence of tuberculosis in a human skull from western Turkey, which they claim is 500,000 years old.1 At that age it is the oldest evidence for tuberculosis in humans. Previously the disease had only been recognized in mummies from Egypt and Peru dated to an age of several thousand years.

The team from the United States, Turkey and Germany found tiny 1–2 mm lesions in a line along the bone just behind the right eye socket. The American Journal of Physical Anthropology published the report in its December 7, 2007, issue.

According to the report, the location and shape of the skull markings are diagnostic of a type of tuberculosis, called Leptomeningitis tuberculosa, which destroys the membranes enclosing the brain.

Tuberculosis is an infectious and deadly disease. It commonly attacks the lungs, but also ravages other parts of the body including the nervous system, the circulatory system bones and joints. In days past, tuberculosis was called consumption because it seemed to consume people from within, with fever, chest pain, wasting and coughing up blood.

For evangelicals who accept this 500,000-year date uncritically, who have inserted millions of years into the Bible by various devices, such as day-age ideas, gap theory, progressive creation and the framework hypothesis, this Homo erectus fossil creates a dilemma. Is tuberculosis included in what God pronounced ‘very good’ after he had created Adam and Eve in the garden?

Once we accept the dates, we accept that TB existed in the world long before the first man and woman, long before sin entered the world.

Evangelicals have a choice. We can either reject the dating methods that tell us that this human skull is 500,000 years old or we can try to avoid the stark theological implications. Maybe tuberculosis with its coughing of blood and wasting from the inside is not that bad. Perhaps the creation of such a painful, debilitating disease does not impinge on the character of God. Perhaps Homo erectus, despite all the evidence from various sites around the world for his essential humanity was a soulless, non-human pre-Adamite, as a popular long-age theology would claim?2

The safe and sensible place to stand upon is the plain teaching of the Word of God. This fossil is not a theological problem but a dating one. The researchers did not measure its age. They assigned its age based on their own personal philosophy, essentially. They already believed in evolution so they selected a method whose presuppositions (starting beliefs) would generate numbers that fitted with that belief. (See: How can the radiometric dates of millions and billions of years old be so wrong?)

Remember no dates were etched on the skull.

The skull, most likely, is post-Flood, coming from one of the populations of humans that migrated away from the Tower of Babel after the confusion of languages. As such, it would be less than 4,500 years old.

We know that diseases, suffering and tuberculosis did not exist in the world God originally created. They are a consequence of the Curse he placed on the earth after mankind sinned.

And we know that they will not exist in the New Heaven and New Earth. One day Jesus will abolish disease, suffering and the coughing of blood.

Doubt the age, not the Bible.

Published: 18 January 2008


  1. Most ancient case of tuberculosis found in 500,000-year-old human; points to modern health issues, Physorg.com, 7 December 2007; www.physorg.com/news116230398.html. Return to Text.
  2. The progressive creationist camp, as mostly epitomized by the teachings of Hugh Ross, founder of the long-age ministry Reasons to Believe. Because they accept such long-age ‘dating’, and teach that Adam was only created tens of thousands of years ago at most, even obvious human fossils must be ‘reinterpreted’ as ‘soulless hominids’. Return to Text.

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