Skull wars: new ‘Homo erectus’ skull in Ethiopia


The recent find of a so-called Homo erectus skull in Africa was announced throughout the world as if it proved evolution, and published in Nature.1 The facts are far less exciting for evolution’s would-be believers.

‘A million-year-old skull found in Ethiopia confirms the theory that modern man evolved from a single pre-human species that developed in Africa and migrated throughout the rest of the world…’2

Reading that introduction to the CNN internet article about the latest alleged ape-man skull find the average reader might think that this skull is supposed to have somehow confirmed that people evolved from subhuman ancestors. But even evolutionists reading this would have to agree that this was not the point being made, in fact. The author(s) of the article, and the researchers cited, all commence their thinking, and all their interpretations of the facts, from within a framework that already believes that man evolved. After all, if they didn’t, then the only alternative would be to accept special creation, which is against The Rules of the Game!

The skull in question is of a type that has been given the label Homo erectus. The above mentioned evolutionary thought framework has long been locked into the view that Homo erectus is a subhuman species, i.e. an evolutionary intermediate between today’s humans and earlier, even less human, ape-like ancestors.

Creationists have generally claimed that there is nothing in erectus specimens which is outside the range of human variation.3 This is confirmed by evidence of their artefacts and thus behaviour. I.e. they are likely to have been just another type of human resulting from the sudden burst of genetic diversification after Babel. Not so long ago, the cover of Time drew an erectus male looking just like a tall Olympic athlete. If that individual were to wear a hat, hiding his receding forehead and prominent brow ridges (features which are, in isolation, not unknown among today’s populations), he would not even warrant a second look.

So what is the new fuss all about? Shouldn’t it be just a case of, ‘Yawn, just another Homo erectus skull has been found?’ The answer is that it is all about debates among evolutionists, arguing about different ideas of how humans evolved, not whether.

The situation was this. Until the mid-1980s, most evolutionists believed that the erectus skulls found in places like Asia and Europe had all emerged from an original erectus population which had emerged in Africa. Then others started saying that the skulls in Africa were a little different, and represented a separate species, which they named Homo ergaster, that is thought to have evolved into erectus.

This recent skull discovery has been made in Africa, and the skull is ‘dated’ (using the usual evolutionary assumptions) at one million years. It is a classic erectus skull, which seems to confirm the earlier view. This has caused people to reassess the whole matter of ergaster, with many now saying that ergaster never existed. I.e. they now point out that the differences between ergaster and erectus were, all along, too minor to call them a separate species. They were just a part of the range of variation in one group.

In other words, where once one could talk of three separate Homo species called ergaster, erectus and sapiens, now these are reduced to erectus and Sapiens. Study leader Dr Tim White, co-director of the Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, points out the widespread occurrence of what’s known as taxonomic splitting:

‘There’s been a recent tendency to give a different name to each of the fossils that comes out of the ground, and that has led to what we think is a very misleading portrayal of the biology of human evolution.’

Other evolutionists are not convinced, despite the evidence confirming the tight anatomical overlap of features. However, this only highlights how all such matters involving classification of fossil bones are, by their very nature, highly subjective. It is not at all unreasonable, in the light of that subjectivity, for the creationist to maintain that there should really only be one Homo species acknowledged, namely Homo Sapiens

This is consistent with what certain evolutionary paleoanthropologists, most notably Milford Wolpoff of the University of Michigan, have been saying for some time now. They do believe that the individuals whose bones have been labeled erectus were the evolutionary ancestors of modern people (as were Neandertals, in their view). But they seem to believe that the similarities are such that all Homo erectus specimens, along with Homo neanderthalensis and others, should really be called Homo Sapiens—which means, in a nutshell, people. There is evidence associated with erectus of many human cultural attributes, including burial of their dead, the use of ceremonial ochre, stone toolmaking, and even complex seafaring/navigation skills. (It’s been recently discovered that ‘Neanderthals Made High-Tech Superglue’.)

So, like the ten green bottles on the wall, now we would be back to one Homo species after all. The TJ paper by creationist John Woodmorappe, titled The non-transitions in ‘human evolution’—on evolutionists’ terms concludes from the analysis of a number of characteristics that Homo ergaster, H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis as well as H. heidelbergensis were most likely ‘racial’ variants of modern man, while H. habilis4 and another specimen called H. rudolfensis were just types of australopithecines.

When the entire human gene pool was broken up suddenly at Babel, different groups took different proportions of that gene pool with them, giving rise to many people groups, or so-called ‘races’. These have superficial fixed differences in the proportion and frequency of certain features. E.g. some have more skin pigment, some less. But genetic studies on the living descendants of those groups shows that they (we) are all astonishingly closely related, not surprisingly. We all have the same skin pigment, for instance, just different amounts of it. And all people groups can freely intermarry, resulting in a closer approximation to the genetic richness that would have characterized Noah’s family. In fact, there is a wider variation within a ‘race’ than between different ‘races’, which is why biologists regard ‘race’ as a biologically meaningless concept. (For more information, see How did all the different ‘races’ arise?, extracted from The Creation Answers Book)

Similarly, the range of variation in bony features among these early post-Babel humans, some groups of which have since died out (Neandertals, e.g.) is easily explained on the same genetic basis.

So next time you see certain newspaper announcements of the latest ‘skull’, remember that often the reporters concerned have only the fuzziest idea of what is being discussed. Also, they are viewing and interpreting those facts through the ‘lens’ of a framework which assumes human evolution, so can hardly be used to prove human evolution. In any case, neither the researchers, nor the reporters, will generally have the opportunity, will or incentive to see the same facts through the ‘lens’ of the real history given in the Bible. Meanwhile, see Q&A: Anthropology for refutations of other ‘missing link’/‘ape-man’ claims.

Ed. note: See also Homo erectus misunderstandings?, response to a critic of this article.

Published: 3 February 2006


  1. Aswaf, B. et al., Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia, Nature 416(6878):317–320, 21 March 2002. Return to text.
  2. Fossil skull fuels debate over human origin, www.CNN.com, 21 March 2002. Return to text.
  3. For example, see Woodmorappe, J., How different is the cranial-vault thickness of Homo erectus from modern man? TJ 14(1):10–13, 2000. Return to text.
  4. So-called Homo habilis has pretty well died as a taxon, the confusion seemingly caused by assigning of either erectus or, more commonly, australopithecine fossil pieces into this ‘taxonomic waste bin’. For simplicity, we are here ignoring the debates about Homo neanderthalensis and similar. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Contested Bones
by Christopher Rupe, Dr. John Sanford
US $29.00
Soft cover