‘Southwest Colorado Man’ and the year of the one-tooth wonders
Robert W of the United States inquired about ‘Southwest1 Colorado Man’ (Robert’s correspondence is not reproduced in this article). Andrew Lamb replies.
Southwest Colorado Man
There are at least four creationist references to ‘Southwest Colorado Man’—by Criswell2, Huse3, Wysong4 and Rimmer5. Huse cites Criswell, Wysong cites Rimmer, and neither Criswell nor Rimmer gives their source. Judging by their publication dates, and by the way that all four authors parody the evolutionist position with comical catch-cries beginning ‘Give us a tooth’, it seems that all four accounts derive from Rimmer.
Although Rimmer doesn’t give a specific source for his information, he does refer to Southwest Colorado Man as being ‘much advertised’ and a quick search turned up two references from the secular media to Southwestern Colorado Man (if any readers have other reports on this Southwest/Southwestern Colorado Man, we would be keen to receive copies of them). Here is a 1927 comment from Time magazine:
The “Southwestern Colorado Man,” lately deduced from a set of Eocene teeth, was a myth, the teeth having proved to be those of an antique horse.6
And here is a report from The New York Times newspaper:
Many recent scientific “sensations” were desensationalised by Dr. Hrdlicka, who in a discussion of “the most recent ancient men” reviewd [sic] som [sic] of the startling reports of the discoveries of skulls, bones, and teeth supposed to have belonged to human or near-humans of astounding antiquity. …
The “Southwestern Colorado man,” was next criticized by Dr. Hrdlicka. The assumption that this 100 per cent. American did exist was based on the discovery of a set of teeth embedded in rock.
“A careful examination has shown, however,” said Dr. Hrdlicka, “that the teeth are those of one of the small horses of the Eocene period.”7
(Dr Ales Hrdlicka worked at the Smithsonian Institution and was a leading anthropologist of the day.)
Just who made the original Southwestern Colorado Man claims is not clear. Was it some over-excited amateur fossil hound? Or was it perhaps journalists, hyping an otherwise unnewsworthy find? Here’s an interesting anecdote from an evolutionist describing what sometimes happens:
There is only so much information that a hole in the ground or an object can give. Interpretation can all too easily become overinterpretation. I once went to a lecture by the anthropologist Richard Leakey, who complained that while his excavation might reveal a human tooth and in circumstances that determined its age others would then overinterpret the evidence. The tooth would be turned into a person, in a family group, decently clad in furs, in a dwelling, with tools and artefacts. There was usually a fire burning and an animal spitroasting, children were playing and so on and so forth. All this from just a tooth. Complete fantasy, absurd overinterpretation but the usual way that the discovery of a very old tooth is announced in the press or popular magazines. Modern science can tell a lot from a tooth but not where its owner bought their shirts.8
Of course in many cases it is the scientists themselves who indulge in the outrageous overinterpretation. (For a creationist description of this process, see Shifting sands of human evolution. See also Filling in the blanks.)
So, without definite information on who exactly made the original claims, Southwest Colorado Man does not make a compelling candidate as an apologetics evidence for creationists. Only if it was a qualified scientist who made the original claims would it constitute a good anti-evolution evidence. It would then provide yet another example of the outrageous subjectivity and imagination that passes for scholarship in the field of evolution.
1927: Year of the One-Tooth Wonders
1927 was a bad year for hominoidal ‘one-tooth wonders’. Besides being the year that it became known that Southwest Colorado Man was actually a horse, this was also the year that the public finally learned the ignominious truth about Nebraska Man, recent star of the notorious Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925.9 The tooth upon which this apeman was based—dubbed ‘the million-dollar tooth’10 for its perceived value to science—was revealed to be a pig’s tooth. And besides Nebraska Man (pig’s tooth) and Southwest Colorado Man (horse tooth/teeth) there was also Montana Man (quadruped tooth) and Peking Man (human tooth).
Montana Man was promoted with much public fanfare by prominent naturalist Dr J.C.F. Siegfriedt, who enlisted local dentists11 in support of his claims. In 1927, scant months after its finding, the tooth upon which Siegfriedt based Montana Man was denounced by other experts as the tooth of an extinct quadruped:
The discovery, in a coal mine on the windswept mountain slopes near Billings, Mont., of a fossil molar tooth of human appearance, mixed in with fossil clams and lizards known to belong in the Eocene period, 50 to 60 million years ago, caused a great deal of newspaper talk last autumn. But experts were inclined to view the molar as that of euprotogonia, doglike Eocene quadruped with manlike teeth in its bearlike-horselike head.12
Here’s a later account of this farcical episode from a biographer:
On 5 November 1926, Dr. J. C. F. Siegfriedt examined a piece of carbonaceous shale on the top of a loaded coal car at the pit-head and saw exposed a blackish tooth which looked very much like a recently extracted molar. Siegfriedt was in equal parts a scientist and a civic booster. He spoke in a serious way to his paleontological colleagues and with fervid enthusiasm to the press. This two-pronged approach to matters was repeatedly expressed in his life and nowhere more vividly than in this instance. The tooth specimen was photographed in Red Lodge by William Lewis and appeared in the Carbon County News as “evidence of early man, millions of years old.” The tooth, now lost, was in due course accurately identified as belonging to a condylarth (possibly Phenacodus) … 13
Note the reference to ‘fervid enthusiasm’. This is very typical of those who make new evolutionary claims. They often tend to not be cautious and objective, as befits good science, but fired up with religious-like zeal for their pet imaginative theories.
1927 was also the year in which paleoanthropologist Davidson Black found a tooth at Zhoukoudian in China.14,15,16 For several years Black had searched remote locations in China and Thailand in his elusive quest for human ancestors.17 Although the tooth he finally found was indistinguishable from a human molar18, Black ‘knew’ (erroneously) due to the supposed great age of the strata in which it was found, and to the ‘fact’ of evolution, that its owner couldn’t have been fully human, but had to have been prehuman, and triumphantly proclaimed to the world that the tooth belonged to a new species—Sinanthropus pekinensis.19 Black reportedly wore the tooth in a gold locket on his watch chain.20
Peking Man21 remains were later reclassified as belonging to the group Homo erectus, and even some evolutionists now acknowledge that Homo erectus was completely human, and have recommended that they be reclassified as Homo sapiens. See Is there really evidence that man descended from the apes?
And not just teeth: Java Man II
It wasn’t just animal teeth that suffered ill-usage at the hands of evolutionists in their spirited quest for new ape-men. ‘Anthropologists rejoiced’22 when Java Man II was found in 1926. But the public soon learned that this was just another instance of the ridiculous evolutionary concoction of an ape-human ancestor from misidentified animal remains, as the following 1927 note in Time magazine reveals:
Subsequent examination of the fossil discovered last autumn at Trinil, Java (TIME, Oct. 11), and reported everywhere as another skull of Pithecanthropus erectus, the Java apeman, showed the relic to be an elephant’s knee cap.6
And here’s one of at least two23 entertaining exposés of this alleged ape-man fossil that appeared in The New York Times:
The report which received the most ludicrous deflation was that of the recent discovery of the skull of “the second Java man,” found in Java near the site where the famous pithecanthropus erectus, or most ancient of ancient men, was found thirty-five years ago. The new find was reported all over the world as a second and perfect skull of the primitive human and was heralded as one of the most important anthropological discoveries of the decade. The discovery was vouched for by two English scientists of excellent standing.
A critical examination of this supposed million-year-old near-human skull has revealed beyond all doubt that it is an extinct elephant’s knee, according to Dr. Hrdlicka.
Dr. Hrdlicka bespoke a kindly attitude toward the scientists who had mistaken the elephant’s knee for the ancient human skull, saying that the resemblance at first glance was extremely strong and might deceive any but the most experienced investigators. His whole plea, however, was that discoverers of sensational skulls and teeth should submit them to expert investigation before announcing them with a world-wide burst of publicity. 7
Why this compulsive, almost desperate, recklessness in proclaiming any scrap of tooth or bone as a new ancestral apeman?
Man is a spiritual as well as physical being, with an inbuilt need for meaning, and an inbuilt urge to worship. God has ‘set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). For philosophical and spiritual reasons many people reject God and the Bible, largely because to accept them would mean facing up to their own sinfulness. But because they still hunger inside for meaning, they then desperately need an alternative account of origins to replace the true God-created-Adam version, and a replacement object of worship. Hence the compulsive search for ever new apemen (faux Adams) to shore up their God-excluding version of history in which Evolution brings forth men from apes. See the paragraph on this phenomenon of compulsion in Evolution by fiat and faith.
In the same way that Black venerated his ‘ancestral tooth’ by enshrining it in a golden locket, so too the site of the Java Man find had become a place of pilgrimage—‘The spot is marked by a tablet, and is almost an archeological shrine.’24 By such inadequate means do evolutionists attempt to satisfy their human need to worship, by ‘worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator’ (Romans 1:25). Of course it is not unknown for professed Christians to do similarly, giving their primary devotion to some particular holy relic, sacred site, charismatic leader, arcane ritual, spiritual experience/manifestation, or religious organisation, but at CMI we encourage people to put their faith wholly in the Word of God, both Living (the Lord Jesus Christ) and Written (the Bible), rather than in relics, etc.
God created us with the capacity to reject Him if we choose. People have sufficient intellect to recognize God’s existence (Romans 1:20) but they have consistently chosen to exclude God to a greater or lesser extent from their lives and from society, with all the woeful consequences that this entails. Evil is basically a lack of God’s presence and God’s standards.
A lack of standards seems very apparent in the relentlessly repeating cycle of the proposing and subsequent discarding of evolutionary transitional forms.
- Also called Southwestern Colorado Man. Return to Text.
- W. A. Criswell, Did Man Just Happen? Zondervan, Australian edition published by Greenwood Press, page 55:
There was advertised in this country and in the world a great discovery called the Southwest Colorado Man. It has been shown since that great advertisement that this new “discovery” was constructed out of the tooth of a horse of the Eocene Period.
“Give us a tooth”, cry the experts, “and we will create a whole race of fossilized humanity.” Return to Text.
- Scott M. Huse, The Collapse of Evolution, Baker Book House, 1983, page 135:
A similar discovery, which was also based on a tooth, was the Southwest Colorado Man. It is now known that this particular tooth actually belonged to a horse!1
How resourceful and imaginative scientific “experts” can be at times. Give them one tooth, not necessarily human, and they can create an entire race of prehistoric humanity.
1. Criswell, W.A., Did Man Just Happen? Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973, p.85. Return to Text.
- R. L. Wysong, The Creation—Evolution Controversy, page 296:
SOUTHWEST COLORADO MAN
Southwest Colorado Man was believed to be a link between man and primate until the single tooth used as its basis was found to belong to an extinct Eocene horse. Truly, as Harry Rimmer, an early critic of evolution wrote, “‘Give us a tooth!’ seems to be the cry of the experts; and they will supply all the rest from imagination and plaster of paris.”69
69. H. Rimmer: The Theory of Evolution and the Facts of Science, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1935), p. 123. Return to Text.
- Harry Rimmer, The Theory of Evolution and the Facts of Science, WM B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946, page 123:
Another famous scientific balloon, filled with hot air, has been deflated now that the much advertised “Southwest Colorado Man” has been shown to have been entirely constructed from a tooth of a small horse of the Eocene period. “Give us a tooth!” seems to be the cry of the experts; and they will supply all the rest from imagination and plaster of paris. Return to Text.
- A.A.A.S., Time 9(2), 10 January 1927, www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,881620,00.html. Return to Text.
- Thirty years added to the life of man, New York Times, 29 December 1926, pages 1–2. Return to Text.
- John A. Hoskins, Reading the stones, Indoor+Built Environment 11(2):57–58, March–April 2002; page 57. Return to Text.
- Gregory, W. K., Hesperopithecus apparently not an ape nor a man, Science 66(1720):579–581, 16 December 1927, www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/66/1720/579.pdf. Return to Text.
‘The tooth became known as the “million dollar tooth” because of an accident which occurred while it was being X-rayed. The tooth, which had been guarded like so much radium, was taken to a dental laboratory. Professor [William K.] Gregory [of the American Museum] handed it to a laboratory assistant and said:“Now be mighty careful. That tooth is worth a million dollars.” … The laboratory assistant began to tremble all over, the tooth slipped from his fingers, fell to the tiled floor and was shattered.’
Nebraska ape tooth proved a wild pig’s: ‘Million-Dollar’ Molar stirred six-year battle which ends in victory for peccary, The New York Times, 20 February 1928, page 1. Return to Text.
‘The tooth, declared by dentists of this city [Billings, Montana] to be the second lower molar of a human being, was found by Dr. J. C. Siegfriedt of Bear Creek, who has been collecting fossils for the University of Iowa and for other institutions.’
Human tooth found in Montana coal bed, The New York Times, 8 November 1926, page 3. Return to Text.
- The Diggers, Time, 15 August 1927, www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,730915,00.html. Return to Text.
- Lewis, Thomas H., Contributions to Paleontology by an early Montana physician, Northwest Science 56(1):58–61, February 1982.; page 59, http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/org_NWS/NWSci journal articles/1982 files/Issue 1/v56 p58 Lewis.PDF. Return to Text.
In reports of the time this place name was spelt Chou Kou Tien. See for example: Interest here stirred by tooth discovery, New York Times, 24 November 1926, page 15. Return to Text.
‘Peking man was identified as a new fossil human by Davidson Black in 1927 on the basis of a single tooth.’ The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 9, page 244, 15th edition, 1992. Return to Text.
Actually, two human teeth, a right upper molar and a lower anterior premolar, had already been found at Zhoukoudian (Chou Kou Tien) prior to Black’s arrival, and more teeth and other human remains were found subsequent to Black’s 1927 paper. Although authoritative sources say that Black himself discovered the tooth on which he based Sinanthropus pekinensis, I suspect he may actually have been describing one of the previously found teeth. I do not have access to a copy of Black’s 1927 paper and so am unable to verify this point. Perhaps sources that say Black discovered the tooth mean discover in the sense of ‘realised the importance, and described it and named it in the scientific literature,’ rather than in the sense of ‘picked it out of the ground with his own hand’. Another fossil human tooth had also been obtained from a Peking shop and described in the scientific literature in 1903, but it was not clear where exactly that tooth had originated from. Black, Davidson, Tertiary Man in Asia—the Chou Kou Tien discovery, Science 64(1668):586–587, 17 December 1926, www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/64/1668/586.pdf. Return to Text.
‘Black became deeply interested in the problems of man’s origin. After World War I and until his death, Black served in China as professor of embryology and neurology at the Peking Union Medical College. He first searched for early man in Jehol (North China), then in Thailand. Then in 1927, at Chou-k’ou-tien, near Peking, a…molar…was discovered.…Black…inferred from this single tooth the existence of a previously unknown hominid genus and species, which he named Sinanthropus pekinensis.’ The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 2, page 251, 15th edition, 1992. Return to Text.
‘One of the teeth recovered is a right upper molar, probably the third, whose relatively unworn crown presents characters which appear from the photographs to be essentially human.’ [My bolding. A.L.] Ref. 16, page 527. Return to Text.
The paper in which Black described the tooth and bestowed the name Sinanthropus pekinensis was: Black, Anderson, On a lower molar hominid tooth from the Chou Kou Tien deposit, Palaeontologia Sinica, Series D, 7(1):1–28, 1927. Return to Text.
Swinton, W.E., Physician contributions to nonmedical science: Davidson Black, our Peking Man, Canadian Medical Association Journal 115(12):1251–1253, 18 December 1976; page 1253, www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=1878980&blobtype=pdf. Return to Text.
The teeth were coined ‘Peking Man’ by geologist A.W. Grabau, one of Black’s colleagues, and this was actually prior to Black naming them (Swinton, Ref. 20, page 1253). Return to Text.
- ‘The Orient’s big yield was announced from Batavia by Professor Heberlein of the Dutch Medical Service. At Trinil, in Central Java, near the spot where the Dutch medical missionary, Eugene Dubois, found two teeth, a thigh bone and the top of a skull in 1892.’
‘Professor Heberlein had found what seemed a complete skull, evidently of the same kind of creature introduced to science by the Dubois fragments—pithecanthropus erectus, the Java apeman. The assumed bones were attached to a spongy stone lump of volcanic origin. The crown was distorted somewhat; the eyesockets bulged abnormally.’
‘Anthropologists at U. S. and European museums rejoiced at one adjective in the Batavia despatch—a “complete” skull the message had said. That meant that if the upper portion should prove similar to the Dubois fragment, science could determine without aid of theory the degree of relationship between pithecanthropus and man and ape from the new skull’s lower jaw, aural cavities and spinal connection.’ [My bolding. A.L.]
Diggers, Time 8(15), 11 October 1926, www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,729556,00.html. Return to Text.
Here is the other account:
‘This Skull Was a Knee-cap’
‘The layman’s awe of the anthropologist is necessarily tempered for a moment when he learns that the latest skull of a so-called “ape-man” found in Java is in reality the knee-bone of an elephant.’
‘It is, of course, possible that this is only hyperbolical language used by one anthropologist to express his disagreement with a colleague. Those who found the relic in Java declared it to be a fossilized skull of the species of near-human known in the books as “pithecanthropus erectus.” Almost at once a controversy about it arose, not unlike that which followed the discovery of the so-called “Calaveras” skull in California many years ago.’
‘In the case of the California find, there was no question that the skull was a skull. The dispute was whether it was as old as claimed, and whether it had found its way to the bottom of a deep gravel deposit by natural or human means.’
‘The latest Java skull was doubted from the beginning, even though the discoverers, with true Dutch caution, declared that it was a find of such importance that they dared not ship the original out of Java. Presumably plaster casts of it were sent to various learned men. To have it now proclaimed to be part of an elephant’s knee seems, to the lay mind, to be casting unfair aspersions on the cranial thickness of ancient—or perhaps of modern—man.’
Topics of the times, The New York Times, 31 December 1926, page 12. Return to Text.
- Science News: The Javanese Skull, Science 64(1658):xiv, 8 October 1926, www.sciencemag.org​/cgi/reprint/64/1658/x.pdf. Return to Text.
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