Turkana Boy—getting past the propaganda


Photo Wikipedia.org, released under the GFDL PicDescription
The Turkana Boy skeleton is regarded as a subhuman ancestor, but it’s easy to see why even some evolutionists believe he is the same species as people today.

Kenya’s national museum will be displaying 160,000 fossils in its upcoming exhibit in July.1 The exhibition is part of a $10.5 million renovation of Kenya’s national museums, financed by the European Union. Taking center stage at this exhibition will be one of the most controversial human skeletons, known as the ‘Turkana Boy’ (also known as the Nariokotome Boy). This largely complete human skeleton has set off a firestorm of controversy between evangelical Christians and evolutionary scientists.

Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya’s 35 evangelical denominations, is calling on believers to boycott the exhibition and is demanding that the museum relegate the fossil skeleton to a back room. In addition, he is demanding that the museum place some type of notice informing its visitors that evolution is not a fact. He says, ‘I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it…these sorts of silly views are killing our faith.’ Richard Leakey, founder of the museum’s prehistory department and world famous fossil hunter, countered with ‘Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his…the bishop is descended from the apes and these fossils tell how he evolved.’ Dr. Emma Mbua, head of paleontology at the museum, added, ‘Evolution is a fact.’

Starting points

Science is always dependent on one’s starting points. Every scientist begins his/her investigation of the evidence through a particular lens. Even evolutionists admit as much. Evolutionary paleoanthropologist Milford Wolpoff wrote, ‘In my view, “objectivity” does not exist in science. Even in the act of gathering data, decisions about what data to record and what to ignore reflect the framework of the scientist.’2 Evolutionists John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas acknowledge, ‘…we do know that the popular image of the scientist as a dispassionate seeker after the truth could not be further from reality.’3

Turkana Boy in competing worldviews

In evolutionary theory, mankind evolved from simple chemicals over 4.5 billion years. In the young earth creationist (i.e. biblical) worldview, mankind was specially created about 6,000 years ago. In evolutionary theory, Turkana Boy is classified as Homo erectus, or more specifically Homo ergaster. Dated at 1.6 million years old on the evolutionary timeline, Turkana Boy is claimed to represent a primitive subhuman ancestor of modern humans. In the creation model, Turkana Boy is a fully human descendant of Adam and Eve whose distinct skeletal features lie within normal human variation.

Setting the stage

The Turkana Boy fossil skeleton is virtually complete, with only the hands, feet, and a single humerus missing. It measures about 160 cm (about 5¼ ft) and was that of a 9-12 year-old boy. Many scientists surmise that Turkana Boy may have reached over 1.8 m (6 ft) in height in adulthood.4 His brain size measures about 880cc, although it may have reached the 900cc range as an adult.5 The skull features thick brow ridges, a backward sloping forehead, and a minimal chin. In addition, the thoracic and cervical vertebrae are narrower than most living humans of the same size. From the neck down, the skeleton is virtually indistinguishable from that of a modern Kenyan bushman.6 Evolutionists relegate Turkana Boy to being a subhuman ancestor due to some of its distinct skeletal features. However, there is an enormous degree of skeletal variation in humanity. For example, Owen Lovejoy, a famous evolutionary paleoanthropologist, studied 1,000 year old North American Indian bones and drew the following conclusion: ‘The Amerindian collection undoubtedly represents a population belonging to the species Homo sapiens, yet it includes many unusual bones that probably would have been assigned to a different species, or even a different genus, if they had been discovered as individual fossils…’7

In addition, bones represent a very small percentage of human anatomy. Molecular biologist Michael Denton once wrote, ‘To begin with, ninety-nine per cent of the biology of any organism resides in its soft anatomy, which is inaccessible in a fossil.’8 This is why one’s starting points, or interpretive framework, play such a vital role in extrapolating the identity and function of fossil bones.

Skull features

Turkana Boy has a skull marked by thick brows, a sloping forehead, constricted temples, and a very small chin. However, all of these cranial shapes lie within the normal variation of humans living today. Vij Sodera, a prominent UK surgeon, published a couple of x-ray photographs of contemporary human skulls with prominent brow ridges and backward sloping foreheads.6 In addition, one of his pictures shows a contemporary human with distinct constriction at the temples.

Sodera also makes the very important point that these modern humans looked completely normal despite possessing Homo erectus cranial features. In other words, the appearance of bare bones can look significantly different to the appearance of the human being in real life, with all of the soft tissues in place.6 Therefore, the popular science shows and magazines that depict Homo erectus as possessing an ape-like head are not based on observational evidence, but overt evolutionary bias.

There is an enormous degree of cranial variation in modern humans, and this variation can develop quite rapidly. For example:

‘The ancient Japanese had long heads, broad faces, and wide flat nasal roots, and were prognathic. The later Japanese had rounded heads, narrower faces, and narrower and higher nasal roots, and they were less prognathic…significant differences have developed, over a short time span, between closely related and contiguous peoples…’9

Brain size and intelligence

Turkana Boy had a cranial capacity of about 880cc, although if he would have lived to adulthood, it could have been between 900-1000cc. The average cranial capacity of a modern human is approximately 1300cc. As a result, evolutionary scientists point to the smaller brain size as evidence of a more primitive and less intelligent creature on its way to becoming a fully intelligent modern human. However, as with cranial features, there is an enormous degree of variation in brain size in modern humans.

For example, Anatole France won the 1921 Nobel Prize for literature. When he died at the age of 80, France’s cranial capacity measured in at 933 cc.10 This is virtually the same size as Turkana Boy. There is also the story of Daniel Lyon whose cranial capacity measured only 624 cc.10 Lyon could read, write, and worked for the Pennsylvania Railway Terminal for twenty years at the end of the nineteenth century. He had no mental or physical abnormalities.

As a result, Turkana Boy may have been a highly intelligent human being despite a smaller than average brain size.

Spinal canal & human speech

Turkana Boy’s neck bones reveal a narrower spinal canal size than what is seen in most living adult humans of the same height. Many evolutionary scientists interpret this to mean that an insufficient number of nerve fibers would have been available for fine-tuned breath control. In other words, they believe Turkana Boy would have been incapable of fully human speech.

However, a narrower spinal canal does not determine speech capability. Three-year old children can easily speak with narrower spinal canals, and parakeets can mimic human speech quite well despite possessing a spinal cord only a few millimeters in diameter.6 It is far more likely that the Turkana Boy, based on the entirety of fully human skeletal characteristics, was capable of fully human speech. In any case, studies have indicated that the Turkana Boy had developmental abnormalities, which probably explain the narrow spinal canal. In support of this is the recent finding that the vertebra and spinal canal from the ‘evolutionarily’ older Dmanisi ‘hominids’ were within the human range. See, for example: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060506/fob2.asp

Stone tools, hand axes, and rafts

Homo erectus made stone tools, crafted hand axes, controlled the use of fire, and likely built rafts to travel between islands.11 Observational evidence dictates that only man is capable of performing such technological feats. These activities require careful planning, fine-tuned precision, expert knowledge, and ingenuity. And many of these skills and tools are still utilized by people scattered throughout the world today. How many of us, without the aid of an internet library, modern technology, or outside instruction could execute any of the aforementioned tasks?

Developing better technology and accumulating more knowledge are evidences of progress, not evolution. This is a critical distinction. Human progress is a natural outcome of our God-given intellectual capacity. It is not, however, evidence that mankind evolved from a creature that at some time in the past was not a human being. Humans have always been humans, and the Creator has blessed us with an insatiable desire to gain knowledge and constantly improve our technology.


Creationists have nothing to fear from the Turkana Boy in Kenya’s museum exhibit. In that sense, the evolutionist comment to the Bishop was correct; Turkana Boy is our distant relative. But this is not because we evolved from the apes, but because Adam is the common ancestor of both Turkana Boy and ourselves.

We should welcome the opportunity to discuss the scientific evidence through a biblical lens. Although museums and the popular media will trumpet this human skeleton as an icon of evolution, a careful investigation reveals that the scientific evidence fully supports the biblical account.

Published: 11 April 2007


  1. Mitchell, Anthony. Ancient skeleton focus of modern debate, MSNBC Science, <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17029155/>, 7 February 2007. Return to Text
  2. Wolpoff, M.H., Paleoanthropology, Second Edition, McGraw-Hill, Boston, p. iv, 1999. Return to Text
  3. Gribbin, J. and Cherfas, J., The First Chimpanzee: In Search of Human Origins, Penguin Books, London, p. 148, 2001. Return to Text
  4. Ref. 2, p. 408. Return to Text
  5. Walker, A. and Shipman, P., The Wisdom of Bones: In Search of Human Origins, Phoenix, London, p. 184, 1996. Return to Text
  6. Sodera, V., One small Speck to Man, p. 337-345. Return to Text
  7. Reader, John, Missing Links, p. 232, Collins, 1981. Return to Text
  8. Denton, M., Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler & Adler, Chevy Chase, MD, p. 177, 1985. Return to Text
  9. Laughlin, William. ‘Eskimos and Aleuts: Their origins and evolution’. Science. 8 November 1963. p. 643-4. Return to Text
  10. Skoyles, Dr. John R. (1999) Human Evolution Expanded Brains to Increase Expertise Capacity, Not IQ, Psycoloquy: 10,#2 Brain Expertise (1), <http://psycprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/archive/00000637/> Return to Text
  11. Ref. 6, pp. 441-443. Return to Text