NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A “prehuman” fossil that some scientists claim gives new insight into human origins likely is nothing more than the remains of an ape and does not support evolutionary theory, scientists at a leading creationist ministry say.
Answers in Genesis, the Christian ministry which runs the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio, posted a 1,600-word analysis of the scientific find on its website Oct. 5, saying that the “Ardi” female fossil — which is short for Ardipithecus ramidus and which evolutionary scientists say is 4.4 million years old — poses no more threat to creationist belief than have past fossils.
“Given the number and scope of the papers presented this week on Ardi, it will take some time before creationists are confident in our conclusions on Ardi and her kin,” Answers in Genesis wrote in its News to Note weekly feature. “Based on our first look, however, the facts seem solidly behind the idea that Ardi was a quadrupedal ape with relatively little in common with humans (i.e., no more than most apes); the key basis for the alleged Ardi–human link (which even the authors are hesitant to confirm) is the idea that it walked upright — an idea that even evolutionists have criticized.
“And we can’t forget that all of these conclusions are inferred from digital reconstructions and fallible reconstructions of bones that were in very bad shape.”
Answers in Genesis, which believes the earth is thousands and not millions of years old, also says the find does away with the “missing link” theory — a conclusion with which even evolutionary scientists have agreed.
The Ardi fossil was first discovered in 1992 in Ethiopia but took 15 years to reconstruct, largely because the remains had been crushed and were so fragile that they would “turn to dust” if touched, National Geographic reported on its website. Scientists removed the fossils “along with their surrounding rock,” and then, in a lab, removed the fossil “millimeter by submillimeter.” The skull, also crushed, was scanned by computer and digitally put back together, National Geographic said.
National Geographic, in fact, was among those who said the Ardi fossil disproved the “missing link,” the theory that a part-human, part-chimpanzee creature once existed that linked humans with supposed chimpanzee ancestors.
“Instead, the new evidence suggests that the study of chimpanzee anatomy and behavior — long used to infer the nature of the earliest human ancestors — is largely irrelevant to understanding our beginnings,” National Geographic science writer Jamie Shreeve wrote. “Ardi instead shows an unexpected mix of advanced characteristics and of primitive traits seen in much older apes that were unlike chimps or gorillas.”
Alan Walker, a paleontologist from Penn State University, told the magazine, “This find is far more important than Lucy [a supposed 3.2- million-year-old fossil discovered in the 1970s]. It shows that the last common ancestor with chimps didn’t look like a chimp, or a human, or some funny thing in between.”
Significantly, though, the scientists behind the findings won’t say whether they believe Ardi — and other fossils like her — are a direct ancestor to humans.
“We will need many more fossil recoveries from the period of 3-5 million years ago to confidently answer that question in the future,” the scientists wrote in a briefing document, BBC News reported.
The findings were published in a special edition of the journal Science and challenge not only the “missing link” theory but other popular evolutionary theories. For instance, according to the Los Angeles Times, evolutionary researchers previously believed that a human ancestor who lived around the time of Ardi would, “like modern chimps, be a knuckle-walker, using the knuckles for support while moving on all fours.” Instead, Ardi “appears to have climbed on all fours on branches, but walked upright on the ground.” But Ardi “did not have arched feet like us, indicating that she could not walk or run for long distances,” BBC News reported.
“I think it’s a significant discovery … and will generate an enormous amount of controversy,” Donald Johanson, the scientist who in the 1970s discovered Lucy, told the Times. “I think it’s very important to say that this supports the long held idea that we did not evolve from things that look like modern apes.”
Said Walker of Penn State, “These fossils are much more important than Lucy. The reason is that when Lucy was found, we already knew the major features of Australopithecus from fossils found in the 1940s…. These fossils are of a completely unknown creature, and are much stranger and more primitive than Australopithecus [the species of which Lucy was a member].
Kent State University’s C. Owen Lovejoy, a primary author of the Science journal article, said Ardi is “turning evolution on its head” and that “we’re going to have to rewrite the textbooks on human origins.”
Some evolutionary scientists, though, are unconvinced by the theories posited by Lovejoy and other members of the team, particularly the notion that Ardi would have walked upright on the ground.
“This is a fascinating skeleton, but based on what they present, the evidence for bipedality is limited at best,” Stony Book University’s William Jungers told National Geographic. “Divergent big toes are associated with grasping, and this has one of the most divergent big toes you can imagine. Why would an animal fully adapted to support its weight on its forelimbs in the trees elect to walk bipedally on the ground?”
Answers in Genesis said creationists should “remember that — as with many fossils — the state of preservation is far less perfect than what media images and ‘reconstructions’ portray.” National Geographic reported that the fossil was made up of “badly crushed and distorted bones” that had been, scientists theorized, trampled on in the mud by animals such as hippopotamuses.
“We would point out that the scientists haven’t actually observed Ardi walking; their assertion is based on their reconstruction of the bones,” Answers in Genesis wrote. “… Without having a live ‘Ardi’ to observe, scientists will only ever be able to come to probabilistic conclusions about its characteristics.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.