Earliest Human Ancestor? Not Likely
May 3, 2010 4 Comments
By Lloyd Pye
Media everywhere have recently carried banner stories about the discovery in Ethiopia of fossil bones deemed the oldest yet found of the primate species that eventually evolved into humans. Worldwide news outlets for TV, print, radio, and wire have trumpeted the inexorable march of science back to the moment when the so-called “common ancestor” of apes and humans will eventually be unearthed. Such reports are given as if no other result is remotely possible; it is simply a matter of time and circumstance. But is it?
The new fossils average 5.5 million years old, neatly fitting within the range of 5 to 7 million years ago that is the accepted window for when humans and apes diverged from the common ancestor. However, that window is heavily fogged with assumptions rather than provable calculations. Geneticists have made broad assumptions about mutation rates in the mitochondrial DNA of great apes, which just happens to dovetail in the window with equally broad assumptions made by physical anthropologists.
The anthropological estimate begins with an astonishing string of human-shaped footprints tracked across volcanic ash 3.5 million years ago in what today is Laetoli, Tanzania. Upright bipedal walking is considered a hallmark of humanity and all of its predecessors, so if it was firmly established at 3.5 million years ago, the process had to begin at least 2 or 3 million years earlier. Add 2 to 3 million years to 3.5 million and you arrive at 5.5 to 6.5 million years ago. Tack on another half million front and back for coverage and presto!
Primates started becoming bipedal 5 to 7 million years ago.
THE DOGMA SHUFFLE
Despite howls of protest to the contrary, that is usually how scientists operate. They will arrive at a poorly supported conclusion because it seems logical based on what they know at a certain point in time. Rather than make that conclusion provisional, which should be automatic because science is nothing more than a long series of corrected mistakes, their assumption becomes dogma that is strenuously defended until a new conclusion is shoved down the unwilling throats of the specialists responsible for perpetuating the dogma.
A clear example occurred decades ago when scientists arrived at the seemingly obvious conclusion that humanity was propelled to its destiny by a radical change in climate. The forest homes of the early great apes —and the supposed common ancestor of humanity— must have suffered a severe blight, forcing some primates to begin making their way out onto the savannas that replaced the forests. In the process, increased hand dexterity would become essential. Tools and weapons would have to be held or carried, as well as food and possibly infants, although this last notion was and remains a point of contention.
Though lacking truly opposable thumbs, nonhuman primate infants have enough strength and dexterity in their hands and feet to cling to their mothers’ body hair from the first few moments after birth. Human babies must be carried almost constantly for a full year and, to be safe, for ample parts of another. Nobody can agree on when — much less why — such a severely negative physiological trait would start to manifest, but one assumption is that it started when body hair began to diminish and/or feet began losing the ability to grasp.
Another unsolved strategic puzzle is why prehumans would relinquish so much physical strength (pound for pound all primates —even monkeys— are 5 to 10 times stronger than humans) during the transition onto the savanna. That makes even less sense than giving up the clinging ability of infants.
However, as infants’ hands and feet lost traction, adult hands became ever more dexterous and their feet became ever more adapted to upright locomotion, which —though inexplicable— must have been a worthwhile trade-off.
THE AGONY OF THE FEET
Whatever the reasons, as prehuman hands were utilized for other tasks, they could no longer be used for locomotion, which necessitated moving more and more on the rear limbs alone. In short, so the theorizing went, the more we used our hands, the more we were forced to stand upright. Furthermore, as we assumed both of those radical changes in primate lifestyle, our brains grew larger to accommodate all of the unique new tasks required to succeed in the new environment. It was a conveniently reciprocal spiral of ever-increasing sophistication and capability that led (or drove) us to our destiny.
That dogma stayed in place until 1974, when the famous fossil hominid “Lucy” was discovered in a dry desert arroyo in Ethiopia. Dated reliably at 3.2 million years ago, Lucy clearly walked upright as a fully functioning biped. There was no doubt about it. Problem was, she had the head and brain of a chimpanzee. In fact, she was little more than an upright walking chimpanzee, and a small one at that (3.5 feet tall). Overnight, science lost its ability to insist that brainpower had to increase, ipso facto, with the coequal modifications of hand freedom and bipedality.
Lucy created other problems, too. Her arms seemed a bit longer than they should have been in an incipient human, although lingering echoes of chimphood were acceptable. A further echo was her hands, which had thumbs that were not very opposable, and fingers that were longer and curved a bit more than seemed appropriate. Vaguely ape-like hands atop markedly human-like feet did not set well with the established dogma. Then there was the problem of where she was found, in an area that when she died was primarily wooded forest.
That confounded the dogmatists because forests rarely created fossils, while prehumans were supposed to be found on savannas, which did produce fossils.
Lucy and several others of her kind (Australopithecus afarensis) forced anthropologists to accept that primate brain modification had to be caused by something other than hand and foot modification. However, it still made sense to assume that any primate moving from forest to savanna had to use its hands to hold and carry, and its feet to walk exclusively upright. Five years after Lucy, the Laetoli tracks cemented that assumption, showing perfect bipedality on a flat, open area —possibly a savanna— at 3.5 million years ago. Anthropologists heaved a sigh of relief and considered Lucy’s woodland home a fluke.
Then, in 1994, a new fossil group called Ardipithecus ramidus was found in Ethiopia and dated at 4.4 million years ago. Though 1.2 million years older than afarensis, ramidus was every bit as bipedal, giving no sign of transition between them. This trashed the idea that bipedality was an evolutionary lynchpin for humanity. Worse, ramidus died — and apparently lived — in an area every bit as forested as afarensis. Yikes!
[Like most of you reading this, I, too, deplore anthropology’s overblown nomenclature. Would that they could be as succinct as astronomers. The beginning of everything? The Big Bang. A big red star? A Red Giant. A small white star? A White Dwarf. And so on…. Unfortunately, anthropologists earn their way making mountains of suppositions out of molehills of data, the sparcity of which they obfuscate with pedagogic pedantry.]
In 1995, with anthropologists still reeling from the “ramidus problem,” two separate groups of fossils were found in Kenya. At about 4.0 million years old, Australopithecus namensis was only 400,000 years younger than ramidus, but they were different enough to warrant inclusion in a separate genus, the one that held Lucy and her ilk. Like afarensis and ramidus, anamensis was a fully erect biped, which was another stake in the heart of bipedality as a construct of prehuman evolution. That was bad enough. But despite its location distantly south of northern Ethiopia, anamensis also lived and died in a forest.
Now comes the much ballyhooed discovery of Ardipithecus kadabba, 5.5 million years old and 1.1 million years older than ramidus. And guess what? Kadabba was also found in what was once heavy forest! That leaves anthropologists everywhere hearing the first chilling notes of the Fat Lady warming up. Why? Because prehumans could not possibly have evolved or developed, or whatever they did, in forests. If that were true there would be absolutely no reason for them to abandon established great ape behavior.
Great apes have forest living wired to an extreme, and they have had it wired for over 20 million years, back to when their ancestors first appeared in the Miocene epoch.
THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET
Just as the public did with ramidus, they will overlook or disregard the new anomalous forested environment, and eventually anthropologists will be back to business as usual. Everyone —scientists and public alike— will resume accepting the idea that some small group of quadrupedal primates left the forests to live on the savannas of their time and thereby became human. It could not possibly have happened any other way. Humanity could not have evolved or developed in a forest because we are physically unsuited to it. So what could make our earliest ancestors do so? What could make them stand upright?
Nothing. That’s not a choice any sane creature would make. Forest dwelling primates — even those like gorillas, which dwell primarily on the forest floor — would not forego the ability to scamper up trees, or easily move from tree to tree, without an overwhelmingly compelling reason, and no such reason could ever exist in the forest itself. Only a radical, extended change in environment could warrant the equally radical and extensive physical transformation from quadruped to biped. And if no evidence for such an environmental change is discernable over two million years of extremely early bipedality, right back to the alleged point of divergence between great apes and prehumans, then anthropology is facing a quintessential dilemma: How to explain such an inexplicable discrepancy?
Surprisingly, there is an easy and simple solution. Unfortunately, it is not in the ballpark of a wide range of currently accepted dogmas within and outside of anthropology, and in this sensitive area of knowledge anthropologists are the gatekeepers, tasked with making certain the rest of us aren’t exposed to it. Why? Because, in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson, they don’t believe we can handle it. Well, I think all but the most hidebound of us can, so for better or worse, here it is.
Read on if you want to know the truth.
ONCE UPON A TIME
It begins back in the Miocene epoch, mentioned earlier, which extended for roughly 20 million years (25 to 5 million years ago). Over the course of those 20 million years, more than 50 species of tailless primate apes were known to roam the planet. Those 50+ types have been classified into 20 genera (groups) with names like Proconsul, Kenyapithecus, Dryopithecus, Sivapithecus, and most familiar to a general audience, Gigantopithecus. Okay, show of hands…. how many reading this have heard of the Miocene and of the dozens of apes that lived during the course of its 20 million years? Not many, eh?
The reason is because it presents a painful embarrassment to anyone who supports the notion of Darwinian evolution, which definitely includes mainstream anthropologists. Now, I am not a Creationist, so please don’t cop any attitude because of the preceding sentence. It’s true and it must be stated. Evolution dictates there should have been one, then two, then three, then four, etc., as the magic of speciation produced more and more tailless primates to live wherever they could adapt themselves to fit.
Unfortunately for anthropologists, the exact opposite occurred. Dozens came into existence during the Miocene, most quite suddenly, with no obvious precursors, which is difficult enough to explain. But then nearly all went extinct, leaving only six to thrive: two types of gorilla, two types of chimp, gibbons and orangutans. Why? How? Is that a logical scenario?
No, it’s not. Miocene apes were ubiquitous, being found throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. They came in all sizes, from two-foot-tall elves to ten-foot giants. In short, the planet was theirs to do with as they pleased. Their natural predators would have been few, and the larger ones would have had little to fear from any other creature, even big cats. But since Miocene apes lived almost exclusively in forests, and the big cats lived almost exclusively on savannas, their paths seldom crossed.
So for the most part, and as with great apes today, the majority of Miocene apes were masters of all they surveyed.
AGAIN UPON THE SAME TIME
Imagine the situation as it was…. dozens of tailless ape species living throughout the planet’s forests and in some cases jungles (the dry kind, not swamps), microevolving to whatever degree necessary to make their lives comfortable wherever they were. Given that scenario, what would cause all but six types to go extinct? Well…. nothing, really. In the past 20 million years there have been no global catastrophes. The last of those was 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs were wiped out. So apart from enduring migrations necessitated by the slow waxing and waning of Ice Ages, all Miocene apes would have been free to pursue their individual destinies in relative peace and tranquility.
This brings us to the crux of the anthropological dilemma:
How to explain the loss of so many Miocene apes when there is no logical or biologically acceptable reason for it?
They should still be with us, living in the forests and jungles that sustained them for 20 million years. Species don’t go extinct on a whim, they endure at almost any cost. They are especially hard to eradicate if they are generalists not locked into a specific habitat, which many Miocene apes seem to have avoided. In fact, several were apparently such efficient generalists, it makes more biological sense for them to have survived into our own time than ecological specialists like gorillas, chimps, gibbons, and orangutans.
As it happens, science does not know a tremendous amount about the bodies of Miocene apes. Most of the categories have been classified solely by skulls, skull parts, and teeth, which are the most durable bones in primate bodies. For example, the best known of the Miocene apes, Gigantopithecus, is classified by only four jawbones and many hundreds of teeth. Nevertheless, that is enough to designate them as the physical giants they were, and so it goes with many others. Among those others, enough fragments of arm and leg bones have been recovered to show their limbs were surprisingly balanced in length.
Quadrupeds have arms that are distinctly longer than their legs to make moving on all fours graceful and easy.
Humans have arms that are distinctly shorter than their legs. Some Miocene apes have arms that are equal in length to their legs. Nonetheless, every Miocene ape is considered to have been a quadruped. On the face of it, this would seem to warrant another, perhaps more inclusive or flexible interpretation. Unfortunately, we can’t have one because anthropologists insist that the six quadrupeds living among us today are fully representative of all Miocene categories.
That makes sense, doesn’t it?
I hope by now you can see where this is heading. There is absolutely no way anyone can say for certain that all Miocene apes were quadrupeds. Clearly some of them were, but it is equally possible that some were bipeds as early as 20 million years ago.
That is based on established facts and undeniable logic, but it will be strenuously disputed by virtually all anthropologists who might be confronted with it. In fact, if you want to see someone get their knickers in a twist, as the British like to say, suggest to an anthropologist that several of the Miocene apes might well have been bipeds. If you accept this challenge, step back, plug your ears, and brace yourself. You are in for a tongue lashing.
The problem for anthropologists is that if they acknowledge the distinct possibility that some of the 50+ species of tailless Miocene apes might indeed have been bipedal, they are opening the door to a possibility so embarrassing that they don’t even like to dream about it, much less actively consider it. That possibility —in case you haven’t guessed it by now— is hominoids in general and bigfoot/sasquatch in particular. If there are words more able to infuriate diehard, hardcore bone peddlers, I don’t know what they are.
Despite the vitriol and invective hurled on hominoids by all but a handful of certified anthropologists, the historical record and biological reality dictate that they stand a much greater chance of existing than of not existing. If we make the assumption that they may have gotten their start in forests 20 million years ago, and prospered in them for all those millennia, it establishes a solid possibility that anthropologists are looking in the wrong direction trying to figure out the lineage of kaddaba, ramidus, Lucy, and every other so-called prehuman through Neanderthals — none of which look anything like true humans.
Instead of looking forward to what such creatures might have developed into, perhaps anthropologists would be better served to look back in time, into the Miocene, to try to determine where they might have come from. Which Miocene ape might have been the ancestor of Kaddaba? Which might have been the ancestor of Ramidus? Which of Lucy? And, most blood-chilling of all, which one might have been the ancestor of bigfoot? Has anybody thought it might be…. well….. Gigantopithecus, by any chance? A creature that by the undisputed size of its teeth and jaws had to stand in the range of ten feet or so?
Sounds suspiciously convenient, doesn’t it? A giant ape is certain to have lived on Earth for many millions of years, while a giant ape-like creature is alleged to be currently living in deeply forested areas around the globe.
Only people of high intelligence and extensive specialized training would flagrantly ignore such an obvious connection. Only those with, say, anthropological Ph.D.’s could safely deny such a probable likelihood. That’s why we pay them the big bucks and hire them to teach our children.
They are beyond reproach.
A BIT OF MEA CULPA
I’m being facetious and even a tad mean-spirited here because I want to be certain no one misses the point: Miocene apes are perfect candidates for all the various hominoids that are alleged to live around the world, and not just the bigfoot kind. There are at least three other types of varying sizes (two different man-sized ones and a pygmy type), and quite possibly multiple examples within the four size-based categories (the way there are two distinct types of chimps and gorillas). There seems to be at least three types of bigfoot.
Imagine this scenario: Instead of 50+ Miocene apes, there might have been only, say, a dozen or so, with regional variations classified as 50+ different species due to the scarcity of their fossils. Of those dozen, maybe six were quadrupeds and six were bipeds, with the bipeds being substantially more intelligent, more active, and more wide-ranging than the down-on-all-fours genetic kin. All twelve passed the millennia in their own time-tested fashions and continue living alongside us humans today. None went extinct.
For as radical as that scenario might sound at first, the facts as they exist make it far more logical and probable than the current anthropological dogma that all Miocene apes were quadrupeds, and that despite living in stasis for millions of years, dozens inexplicably went extinct and left only the six we classify today. And please don’t harass me with this old saw:
“If hominoids are real, why don’t we know about them? Why don’t we ever see them? Where are they? Where are their dead bodies?”
People who ask such questions are simply ignorant of an astonishing array of valid research and hard data that exist but are ignored by mainstream science because it doesn’t conform to their current dogma.
We do know about hominoids; we do see them regularly; every single day at some place on the planet some human encounters one or more of them. They are out there living by the thousands… by the hundreds of thousands in order to maintain breeding populations. But because these facts represent such a severe diminution of our knowledge about the world around us, and equally diminishes our sense of control over everything around us, we are far more comfortable rejecting it as a possibility. When the day comes for some lucky soul to finally cram this blatant reality down our collectively unwilling throats, we will all get up the next day and go to work as we have every day prior. But we will never be the same after that day, not ordinary people and especially not mainstream scientists.
That is why we are not told these things in a truthful, realistic way. Those in positions of power and authority do not believe we can handle it. My contention is that it is they, not us, who can’t handle such stark facts… but I could be mistaken. The rampant success of tabloids is a powerful indicator that John and Jane Q. Public might not be quite ready to confront the notion that everything they know about their genesis is stone cold wrong.
Fortunately, the situation isn’t subject to indefinite manipulation. No matter how much those in control ignore, reject, or ridicule unacceptable information, it is out there, it is true, and time will eventually prove its reality.
Meanwhile, the rest of us can only wait for the next —perhaps final— crack in the dam of fear that keeps us all mired in ignorance.