Will the Real Human Ancestor Please Stand Up!

By Ina Belderis

Most of us have seen the classic illustration of human origins: a pictorial sequence of apelike beings progressing from left to right, with each succeeding "apeman" showing more and more human traits, and finally ending up with an anatomically modern human being. This is the scientific picture of human evolution put forward for many decades. Does the image still stand? Paleoanthropological finds of the last 25 years seem to challenge it thoroughly, but its most serious challenge may very well come from anthropology's own historical records: when these are critically analyzed, they reveal a widespread evolutionary prejudice.

The most extensive analysis of this kind is The Hidden History of the Human Race by Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson (Govardhan Hill Publishing, Badger, CA, 1994.) This book is an abridged version of Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race ( Govardhan Hill Publishing, 1993). The authors pose two hypotheses based on the Vedic scriptures: the human race is much older than now generally accepted, and various humanlike and apelike beings coexisted for long periods in the past. They claim that anomalous finds that do not fit the accepted theory of human evolution have been reported for years, especially in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. Yet these have been ignored and suppressed by scientists to such an extent that most are now virtually unknown. According to the authors, scientific preconceptions have caused such anomalous finds to be categorically rejected and severely criticized.

The book starts by explaining several key limitations of paleoanthropological research. First, discoveries are fairly rare and have often been made under questionable circumstances. As soon as something is found, dug up, and taken elsewhere, essential elements -- such as its exact position in the strata -- are destroyed, and afterwards one is dependent on the testimony of the discoverers. Many of their statements depend on various observations and conclusions about geological layers and disturbances within them. The testimony of one person may be different from that of another. Then there is the temptation to cheat, which can be systematic (as in the Piltdown case), or less premeditated (as in reports omitting research material which does not quite fit the desired conclusions). Also, modern chemical and radiometric dating is not without its limitations. Contamination may influence the result, or preliminary calculated dates are sometimes rejected or accepted on the basis of arguments that are not always clearly stated or published. Since paleoanthropological reports tend to provide incomplete information about "complex, unresolvable issues," the authors decided to compare the quality of different reports. The first part of the book discusses numerous reports of so-called anomalous finds of artifacts and human skeletal remains. The second part describes reports of finds that have been accepted by scientists to support the prevailing ideas on human evolution.

It should be noted that in Darwin's time there was no established theory of human descent -- no sequence of apelike beings and dates -- because there had been no discoveries of hominid fossil remains except for two Neanderthal skulls and some finds of modern morphology. It was not until the early 1890s when Eugene Dubois discovered "Java man" that a sequence with dates was theorized. These protohuman fossils later became known as Homo erectus, and since they were found in Middle Pleistocene deposits, they were said to be 800,000 years old. This discovery functioned as a benchmark, according to Cremo and Thompson: "Henceforth, scientists would not expect to find fossils or artifacts of anatomically modem humans in deposits of equal or greater age. If they did, they (or someone wiser) concluded that this was impossible and found some way to discredit the find as a mistake, an illusion, or a hoax" (p. 7).

Thus the anomaly was born -- as nothing was anomalous before the established theory came into being. A number of anomalies had been discovered in the 19th century by reputable scientists, who found skeletal remains of anatomically modern humans in fairly old geological layers (Pliocene and Miocene). In addition they found numerous stone tools and bones that showed signs of the activities of human beings. Since the human evolution theory took shape, these finds have been ignored and rejected. "Knowledge filtration" has prevented scientists from (re)examining these reports. Also scientists have more or less stopped looking for artifacts and remains in older layers that lie outside the possible scope of the theory. When anomalies turn up, they are judged by very strict standards, while finds that do fit the theory are judged by very lenient ones. Some of the stricter standards have been described by anthropologist James B. Griffin: a proper site must have a clearly identifiable geological context (no possibility of intrusion); it must be studied by several expert geologists (and there must be substantial agreement among them); there must be a range of tool forms, well preserved animal remains, pollen studies, macrobotanical materials, human skeletal remains, dating by radiocarbon and other methods. The authors of Hidden History point out that

By this standard, practically none of the locations where major paleo-anthropological discoveries have been made would qualify as genuine sites . . . most of the African discoveries of Australopithecus, Homo habilis, and Homo erectus have occurred not in clearly identifiable geological contexts, but on the surface or in cave deposits, . . . Most of the Java Homo erectus finds also occurred on the surface, in poorly specified locations. -- p. 89

The book goes on to discuss six kinds of anomalous finds: broken and incised bones, eoliths (chipped flints), crude paleoliths, advanced paleoliths and neoliths, extreme anomalies, and human skeletal remains. After the discovery of Java man and Peking man, scientists believed that the transition to toolmaking humans had taken place in the Early to Middle Pleistocene, so they no longer searched for Pliocene or older tools, or even investigated alleged finds. Crerno and Thompson discuss over forty anomalous cases of incised bones, as well as different eoliths, paleoliths and neoliths from various parts of the world, and present the arguments of the so-called debunkers. The authors point out a pattern of standard approach toward controversial evidence. "One mentions an exceptional discovery, one states that it was disputed for some time, and then one cites an authority . . . who supposedly settled the matter, once and for all. But when one takes the time to dig up the report that . . . supposedly delivered the coup de grâce, it often fails to make a convincing case" (p. 81).

The last category of anomalous finds are human skeletal remains. These finds may vary from bone fragments to partial or entire skeletons. They have been found in several places in the Americas and in Europe. Among these are also extreme anomalies, for instance a skeleton found on a coal bed capped with two feet of slate rock, or skeletons found in various Oligocene, Eocene, or early Miocene layers. More frequent finds involve skeletons and fragments from late Miocene (10 to 5 million years old), Pliocene (5 to 2 million years old), and the Pleistocene era (from 10,000 to 2 million years old).

Those who challenge the finding of human remains in very old geological strata often claim that it involves a recent burial in old layers, especially if anatomically modern humans are found. For this to be the case, the layers above the remains would have to be disturbed, yet scientists have discovered many human remains in very old strata where the layers above the remains were undisturbed. Another argument used by opponents is that the remains ended up where they were found because of mudslides out of more recent layers. Mudslides, however, are also traceable in the geological stratigraphy, and they have proven not to be a factor in those cases. Moreover, skeletal remains often take on the color of the ground in which they were housed for long geological periods, which is another argument against intrusion from more recent, differently colored soil.

The second part of Hidden History focuses on those finds of human skeletal remains that have been accepted by science as contributing to the human evolution theory. The first major discovery was made in Java by Dubois, who found a molar and skull cap in 1891, and a fossilized human femur in 1892. He believed that these belonged together and were the remains of an extinct giant chimpanzee. Only after corresponding with Ernst Haeckel, who postulated the existence of a missing link (Pithecanthropus), did Dubois consider his find a specimen of this ape-man. After initial opposition, Pithecanthropus took firm root in the minds of scientists as an early ancestor of man. In the 1930s G. H. R. von Koenigswald traveled to Java to continue the search for Pithecanthropus, and hired scores of Javanese workers. Local villagers, promised money in exchange for discoveries, were paid by the piece, so that bone pieces were broken up to earn more money. With this approach the strict criterion of exact site description became impossible, yet Pithecanthropus is now known as Homo erectus and still considered an accepted link in our ancestral history.

As anthropologists found more hominid remains, they developed a procedure of morphological dating which Cremo and Thompson consider very questionable. For example, when two hominid specimens of different morphology are found in the same stratum and in the presence of similar fauna, they must both be placed within the same geological period. This period, however, may span many hundreds of thousands of years. In some cases, when different paleomagnetic, chemical, and radiometric methods give a wide spread of conflicting dates within this period,

scientists will decide, solely on the basis of their commitment to evolution, that the morphologically more apelike specimen should be moved to the early part of its possible date range, in order to remove it from the part of its possible date range that overlaps that of the morphologically more humanlike specimen. As part of the same procedure, the more humanlike specimen can be moved to the later, or more recent, part of its own possible date range. Thus the two specimens are temporally separated. . . . It would look bad to have two forms, one generally considered ancestral to the other, existing contemporaneously. . . . With this maneuver completed, the two fossil hominids, now set apart from each other temporally, are then cited in textbooks as evidence of an evolutionary progression. -- pp. 204-5

Currently Africa appears to be the arena where scientists have their arguments and disagreements on the theory of human evolution. The line of descent promoted till not long ago was roughly Ramapitbecus (fossil ape), Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and finally ending up with Homo sapiens. In this sequence Australopithecus and Homo habilis were given rather humanlike characteristics, such as an apelike head or face on a modern looking human body. Paleoanthropological discoveries of the last 25 years have done much to undermine this fairly simple picture. Besides these, various other kinds of research on fossil hominids have disturbed the picture even more.

Homo sapiens is believed to have first appeared about 100,000 years ago. Homo erectus supposedly goes back to about 1 million years, while Australopithecus is several million years old. Recent finds, however, date these hominids back beyond their allotted time periods and sometimes make them contemporaneous, which of course destroys the notion that they are each other's ancestors. The fossil remains of Homo habilis are so heterogeneous that some scientists wonder if perhaps some should really be ascribed to Australopithecus, and others to Homo erectus. Because of dimorphism (the male being about twice as big as the female) in some of these early species, it is also possible that remains were ascribed to different types, while in reality they represented different genders within one species.

Donald Johanson, discoverer of Lucy, an Australopithecus dated at 3.5 million years old, continues to "maintain that Homo came directly from Australopithecus afarensis" (p. 265). "Louis Leakey held that Australopithecus was an early and very apelike off-shoot from the mainline of human evolution. Later, his son Richard Leakey took much the same stance" (p. 257). Presently at least four different types of Australopithecus are known: A. afarensis, A. africanus, A. robustus, and A. boisei, of which the last two represent more robust types with bigger jaws. Scientists do not agree, however, about their lineage. Some think one descended from the other, while others believe that the more robust types were a sideline that specialized. Then the so-called Black Skull was found by Alan Walker at Lake Turkana in 1985. This skull had larger teeth, a bigger jaw, and a sagital crest, resembling A. boisei, but it turned out to be 2.5 million years old, older than the oldest robust Australopithecus. This made the theory of specialization in the robust types very doubtful.

Considering the results of their investigations on anomalous finds, accepted discoveries, and what has lately come to light in Africa, Cremo and Thompson draw the following conclusions.

(1) There is a significant amount of evidence from Africa suggesting that beings resembling anatomically modern humans were present in the Early Pleistocene and Pliocene. (2) The conventional image of Australopithecus as a very humanlike terrestrial biped appears to be false. (3) The status of Australopithecus and Homo erectus as human ancestors is questionable. (4) The status of Homo habilis as a distinct species is questionable. (5) Even confining ourselves to conventionally accepted evidence, the multiplicity of proposed evolutionary linkages among the hominids in Africa presents a very confusing picture. -- pp. 265-6

When they combine these observations with what they discovered by studying reports of anomalous finds, they conclude that the evidence as a whole (bones and stones) "is most consistent with the view that anatomically modern humans have coexisted with other primates for tens of millions of years" (p. 266).

This conclusion is in line with what H. P. Blavatsky maintained over a hundred years ago -- in theosophical writings which also referred to the Vedic scriptures. In the viewpoint of theosophy, human beings did not descend from ape ancestors: humanity forms the main stock from which all beings are derived. Monkeys came into being after unions between early mindless humans and primitive mammals tens of millions of years ago. At that time matter was more plastic than it is now, and the barriers between species were not as pronounced. Later this act was repeated by degenerate (but no longer mindless) beings of the human stock and the descendants of the earlier hybrids (monkeys). The result was a variety of semi-human beings with more or less apelike traits. The ancient scriptures describe these beings as "apes" who resembled humans much more than our present anthropoid apes do. They also tell us that humans eventually waged war on these semi-humans and exterminated most of them, letting only the most beastlike ones live. Our present anthropoid apes are allegedly the descendants of these beastlike hybrids.

An evolutionary descent of this nature would explain why the physical makeup of man is decidedly primitive, while those of the animals, including mammals and anthropoid apes, is increasingly specialized. G. de Purucker points out a few of these primitive traits in his Man in Evolution, (1977), mentioning the human skull, nasal bones, facial features, skeleton, muscles, tongue, vermiform appendix, great arteries, premaxilla, and foot, as examples of primitive mammalian simplicity in human beings. The ape's foot compared to the human foot is a clear instance of specialization in the ape -- it has developed into a hand. Scientific research concerning the dental development and the position of the larynx in humans and apes has brought to light a marked difference. This research has been applied to fossil hominids and is described by Richard Leakey in his 0rigins Reconsidered (1992). It turns out that Australopithecus, Homo habilis, and early Homo erectus have traits that are more apelike, while the patterns in later Homo erectus, Neanderthals and Homo sapiens are human.

If the hypotheses brought forward in The Hidden History of the Human Race are correct, that humans are far older than commonly believed, and that humanlike and apelike beings coexisted for long periods of time, then who were Homo Australopithecus, habilis, and Homo erectus? Some scientists have already acknowledged that we really do not know where Homo sapiens came from. Could all these early hominids be the mixed forms between humans and apelike beings as described in theosophical literature? Perhaps the search for the first apeman who stood up and behaved like a human is irrelevant. Could it be that man is his own ancestor?

(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Theoosophical University Press)

Evolution Menu