No one is more strongly convinced than I am of
the vastness of the gulf between civilized man and
the brutes, or is more certain that, whether from
them or not, he is assuredly not of them.
THOMAS H. HUXLEY, 1863
(Huxley 1901, 7:153)
A Hong Kong drugstore would not seem to be the most likely place to
hunt for the fossil remains of man's ancestor, yet this is precisely what
an internationally recognized anthropologist did in 1935. The Chinese pharmacopoeia
is not a bit like our Western potpourri of pills and potents. Among the
dried herbs and lizards will be found "dragon's bones" and "dragon's teeth"
that turn out to be fossils and may include an occasional human tooth.
Ralph von Koenigswald was aware of this and, after sorting through a drawer
of "dragon's teeth", found a large one that he believed had human characteristics
(Koenigswald 1956, 63).
He named it Gigantopithecus blacki
and, in spite of the fiasco over
the Hesperopithecus affair only seven years earlier, claimed this
as part of an early ancestor of man. Other similar teeth were subsequently
purchased to support the claim, but it was not until 1970 that these were
reexamined and shown not to have any human characteristics at all (Pilbeam
1970b). Gigantropithecus blacki
quietly faded from its place as
an ape-to-man transition and became simply another extinct ape having played
a small though vital part in the overall grand delusion.
The story of Peking man, whose replicate plaster skull is found today in every major museum as man's link with the beast, begins in a Peking drugstore in the early 1920s.
Discreet inquiry by visiting Westerners had revealed the source of the fossil bones to be a hill twenty-five miles outside Peking, known as Chou K'ou Tien, meaning, logically enough, "dragon-bone hill". In 1921 a Swede, Otto Zdansky, began excavations. Among the many animal bones he recovered the next year were two human-like teeth; he was very cautious in drawing conclusions, but the find caused excitement among others eager to fill the gap between ape and man. Zdansky returned to Sweden, and we hear no more about him, but one detail may be of interest. Zdansky's little foray was funded by the Swede Ivar Kruegar, who was internationally known in the 1920s as the multimillionaire "Match King" who eventually was discovered to be a swindler. He shot himself in 1932. Kruegar had financed the publication Paleontologia Sinica, which was the official newsarm specifically aimed at reporting anything relating to human origins found in China; there was evidently high expectation that such evidence would be found.
Two other characters now emerge to lead the search for man's early origins in China for the next decade. The first of these was a Canadian physician, Davidson Black, who had been greatly influenced by a book called Climate & Evolution by William Matthew (Hood 1964, 33).[3 ] With his imagination fired by the prospects of finding the elusive missing link, Black went in 1914 to England to study under Grafton Elliot Smith. Smith, it will be recalled, had been involved with the Piltdown man and was already receiving international recognition. Davidson accepted a position at the Peking Union Medical College, with the express purpose of exploring the area for human remains. He and his wife arrived in Peking in 1919, and up to this point his story reads very much like that of Eugene Debois a generation earlier.
The second character was the Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin, whom we met as a young seminarian of twenty-seven in the early stages of the Piltdown affair (Lukas 1977). Teilhard had since studied under Professor Marcellin Boule, who was responsible for the false impression of Neanderthal man. He, in turn, became professor of geology at the University of Paris. However, Teilhard was effectively banished to China in 1923 by his superiors in Rome because of his philosophical views on evolution and Christianity. He was forbidden to lecture or publish any theological works expressing these views although, interestingly, what are basically the same evolutionary views are being taught in many Catholic institutions today. (More will be said of this in Chapter Fourteen.)
In 1927, just as finances were running out, a tooth was discovered at Chou K'ou Tien, and Davidson Black considered that it had characteristics intermediate between ape and man. He announced the discovery of Sinanthropus pekinensis. The Peking Union Medical College had been opened in 1914 by the Rockefeller Foundation and was continuously funded by that organization, except for the years during World War II, until 1950. Black had expected to find his missing link in China, and the single tooth not only provided for his expectations but, along with his resulting enthusiasm, convinced the Rockefeller Foundation, and they forwarded eighty thousand dollars in American funds to set up a Cenozoic Research Laboratory, specifically for the study of human fossils. This was a large sum of money in those days -- in China one dollar would hire a laborer for four days. At times up to one hundred laborers were employed at the Chou K'ou Tien site, a further sign of the deep commitment to finding fossil man. In 1929, after two years of digging and again just as funds were running out, an almost complete brain case was discovered fossilized and embedded in rock; there was no face, jaw, or base. Black fervently believed that this was indeed the skull of Sinanthropus pekinensis, the name he had previously coined on the basis of the single tooth found earlier. When the fossil was freed from the rock, Black estimated the brain capacity to be just under 1,000 cubic centimeters, which happens to be midway between ape and man. However, the other experts, Teilhard de Chardin, Grafton Elliot Smith, Marcellin Boule, and later von Koenigswald, who were all as anxious as Black to find the missing link, were sure, once they had seen the actual fossil, that Black's estimate for the brain capacity was too high. Their first impression was that it was more ape-like than human, and in a number of respects it was said to be very similar to the skullcap found by Dubois in Java; both of these skulls have since been reclassified as Homo erectus (Koenigswald and Weidenreich 1939; Teilhard de Chardin 1965, 65).
This first skull, even though only represented by the top part, was one of the best in a series of fourteen that were discovered during the 1930s and reported in 1943. It should be added, however, that more than half of them consisted of merely a portion of cranium (Weidenreich 1943). There were eleven jawbones, portions of seven thighbones, two upper arm bones, a wristbone, and 147 teeth, but many hundreds of tons of rock had been blasted to recover these trophies (Day 1977, 316; Teilhard de Chardin 1965, 88). Oddly, although thousands of animal bones were found, including those of elephant and deer, no other bones of Sinanthropus were discovered. Moreover, the skull parts were mixed with the animal bones, and there was no evidence of any "progression" from ape towards man from the bottom to the top of the excavation, which amounted to 150 feet in the side of the hill.
In 1934, Black died of a heart attack at the age of forty-nine, after having received a great many international honors following his discovery and publication of Sinanthropus pekinensis. His place was taken by Franz Weidenreich, who subsequently reconstructed Peking man's skull from all the bits and pieces that had been found. Plaster models of Weidenreich's composite reconstruction are what we see today in museums, while photographs of this, labeled "Peking man", appear in textbooks. The brain capacity averages 1,000 cubic centimeters, and it is said to be half a million years old. It is held to be a hominid, which is a more respectable way of saying "missing link", on the basis of its brain capacity, its having teeth similar but not identical to human teeth, and its being found near signs of fire and crude toolmaking, indications of true man. More will be said of this later. Soon after the last of the fathers of Sinanthropus pekinensis had passed away (Weidenreich died in 1948 and Teilhard in 1955), the succeeding generation renamed it, first to Pithecanthropus pekinensis, then finally to Homo erectus pekinensis, thus lumping it together with Dubois' Java man, classified as a man-like ape.
Every one of the fourteen fossil "skulls" and all the remaining fossil pieces listed by Weidenreich in 1943 disappeared during the confusion of World War II. The only tangible evidence today of all this work are the photographs and the models of the plaster reconstruction (Janus and Brashler 1975; Shapiro 1971). The circumstances surrounding the disappearance are certainly mysterious, leaving us open to question if, in fact, the reconstruction by the actual fossil parts was carried out in a genuinely unbiased way. For instance, the picture of the Weidenreich reconstruction of Peking man, which may be found in every textbook on the subject, not only looks fully human but this impression is reinforced by the small size not being evident to the viewer without a normal human skull for comparison in the same picture. It might then be asked, Why did the early investigators who saw the actual fossil consider it to be so ape-like? One suspects that the only evolution that has occurred in the case of Peking man has been in the imagination of those making the reconstruction.
Since 1950 the Chinese Communists have continued to work on the site and have found two fragments of bone, one of a tibia (leg bone) and one a humerus (arm bone), and in 1966, parts of another skullcap. Further discoveries of this nature, though nothing momentous, continued to be made during the 1970s (Rukang and Shenglong 1983).
The finding of only skulls, and these in a battered condition, has always
been a puzzle. A number of suggestions have been put forward. Dunbar's
popular textbook on geology is fairly typical of the kind of reporting
received by students and in this case makes rather interesting reading.
Quoting from the 1960 edition:
About forty individuals were recovered -- men, women and children. These remains are nearly all skulls and lower jaws though a few limb bones were found. The base of each skull had its base broken away in a definite manner suggesting that the individuals had been decapitated and the brains eaten. Professor A.C. Blanc of the University of Rome advanced this interpretation based on some earlier work of Wirz on the Marind Anim tribe of New Guinea. This tribe opens the base of the skull in exactly the same manner to extract the brain which is then baked in a pie with sago and eaten as part of a ceremonial rite concerned with the naming of a child (Dunbar 1960, 447).
| It has to be conceded that this is the kind of reporting that
is likely to impress itself on the Western mind. In the virtual absence
of limb bones, many authorities today agree that the skulls of Peking man
were probably of decapitated individuals having had their brains deliberately
removed, suggestive of cannibalism.
But who was the hunter and who were the hunted? By assigning the classification Homo erectus to these skulls, it can only mean cannibalism, and using the words "men, women and children" leaves the indelible impression that they were human, although primitive. However, there are reasons to doubt that they were human, just as the early investigators doubted that they were human. Teilhard said at first that it was a large ape, and, interestingly, Dubois (1935) in his last days confessed that Java man was a large ape (Weidenreich 1938).
Homo erectus pekinensis, more popularly known as Peking man,
as presented to the public by the British Museum. Depicting early
man quite naked is based entirely on the supposition that man
evolved from the naked ape. (Courtesy of the Trustees of
the British Museum, Natural History)
However, there is more evidence that has been virtually suppressed since the earliest days. Professor Henri Breuil of the College of France and l'Institut de Palaeontologie Humaine, a world-renowned expert on the Old Stone Age, spent nineteen days at the Chou K'ou Tien site, in 1931, at the invitation of Teilhard de Chardin. Breuil found abundant evidence there of a large-scale human operation. A great number of antler bones had been worked, stone tools imported to the site from more than a mile away. Chippings eighteen inches deep in places indicated some kind of stone "industry". There was also evidence of a furnace operation of some kind. Breuil (1932) described this as an ash heap seven meters (twenty-three feet) deep that had evidently been kept going continuously for some time because the minerals in the surrounding soil had fused together with the heat. However, the picture that is conveyed to the world outside did not derive from Breuil's report of 1932 but rather from the report issued the following year by the Cenozoic laboratory members, that is, principally, Davidson Black and Teilhard de Chardin (Black and Teilhard de Chardin 1933). They describe this furnace operation as "traces of artificial fire" and dismiss the matter in a few lines. Bowden (1977, 93) shows that efforts were made to suppress Breuil's report, and virtually every textbook and popular book on ancient man since has used the expression "traces of fire" to describe the furnace operation (Boule and Vallois 1957, 144).[12 ] This conveys the impression intended, that this was man in his earliest stages having just learned to use fire. For example, Pilbeam, in his book The Evolution of Man, says, "From Chou K'ou Tien too came signs of the first use of fire" (Pilbeam 1970a, 176). To emphasize the point further, in 1950 the British Museum commissioned Maurice Wilson to paint a cave scene showing Peking man. The resulting picture shows a naked individual chipping away at some stones and squatted before a small fire consisting of three or four sticks. This is not representative of the facts, and even Teilhard admitted in his 1934 report that "traces of fire ... have accumulated to the depth of several meters" (Teilhard de Chardin 1965, 72). In their 1983 paper, Rukang and Shenglong finally admit the ash heap is six meters deep (p. 93). Breuil also collected a number of bone and stone items that bore the evident signs of human workmanship and left them on display at the local museum. These subsequently disappeared, however (Bowden 1977, 99). Were it not for Breuil's 1932 report, which has survived, it is certain that the only evidence available would be that which supports the view that Peking man was a hominid. As it was, more damaging counterevidence came to light in 1934 by the discovery of the parts of six truly human skeletons, including three complete skulls that were found in what was described as the "upper-cave". The word "upper" implies that these individuals were found in a higher stratum and were, therefore, more recent, but this is by no means clear from the description (Teilhard 1965, 75). In fact, even Weidenreich, who was in charge of the operation after Black's death, refers to the location as "the so-called 'Upper-cave' of Chou K'ou Tien" (Weidenreich 1965, 86). Evidently, the human remains caused difficulties for the imagined scenario especially as evidence for links between the two sites began to appear. It took Weidenreich (1939) five years to finally break the news of the discovery of the true humans, and at that it was confined to the relative obscurity of the Peking Natural History Bulletin. Even so, the popular books and most textbooks today never mention the appearance of true human beings at the site of Peking man.
Another notable to visit Chou K'ou Tien, at the invitation of Teilhard de Chardin, was his old professor from Paris, Marcellin Boule; however, when he actually saw Sinanthropus pekinensis, he was angry at having traveled halfway around the world to see a battered monkey skull. He pointed out that all the evidence indicated that true man was in charge of some sort of "industry" and that the skulls found were merely those of monkeys. It was further suggested at the time that the absence of the rest of the skeleton and the battered condition of the skulls were the result of the monkey brains having been eaten by the human workers, as indeed, this is still practiced as a delicacy in Southeast Asia to this day. Boule concluded with the comment: "We may therefore ask ourselves whether or not it is over-bold to consider Sinanthropus [now called Homo erectus pekinensis]the monarch of Chou K'ou Tien when he appears in its deposit only in the guise of a mere hunter's prey, on a par with the animals by which he is accompanied" (Boule and Vallois 1957, 145).
This question is still valid today. As one reads the original reports,
and most are available in English, there is great inconsistency from one
author to another. The number of Sinanthropus skulls varies from
fourteen to forty for the same period of time; the number of limb-bone
pieces varies from three to eleven; the location of the pieces varies from
"upper cave" to "lower cave"; and the signs of human habitation are played
down by most and seemingly honestly reported by others. And then authorities,
such as Teilhard de Chardin, shift their position from saying quite positively
at first that the skull was like that of a large ape to saying that it
is a true hominid or primitive man. In the light of this tangled web of
contradiction and the fact that the original fossils are no longer available,
one is left with an impression that the whole exercise was carried out
in a most subjective manner by fitting appropriate facts to a preconception.
The reader is left to draw his own conclusions from this more complete
story of Peking man, which is claimed to be a true missing link.
The African Fossil Men
Ever since the great fossil hunt began for conclusive evidence of the relationship between ape and man, those committed to the task have anticipated academic honor rather than financial gain as the principal reward. This appeal to human pride is a great motivator, and in some cases numerous honors have been heaped upon those blessed by fortune to find, for example, a tooth or even parts of a skull. The African story is no different, except that much greater publicity is afforded to the discovery while the discovery itself assures funding for another season. The assurance of financial backing has thereby become another great motivator and surely plays a significant part in the unconscious as interpretations are made on ambiguous evidence. Finally, in more recent years, competition has become a factor in the scramble for funding if not honor, and the interpretation of data will tend to be influenced by what the "competition" has found, since the most coveted prize is not just an ape with some human characteristics or a human with some apish traits, but some creature exactly in between. Born in Australia in 1893, Raymond Dart studied brain anatomy under Grafton Elliot Smith in England, in the early 1920s, while the good professor was at that time still busy with the Piltdown man and Nebraska man. Needless to say, Dart became a convinced evolutionist. His particular interest was in the evolution of the human brain and nervous system. Upon completing his postgraduate training, he went to South Africa to become professor of anatomy at the medical school of the Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg. In 1924 a chain of circumstances led him to a fossilized front face and lower jaw of a young ape found in a cave in the Taung limestone quarry. Dart had been sufficiently indoctrinated by his training to come to expect ape-toman transitions to be found, and he accepted this Taung skull as a missing link. He rushed to report this to the scientific press, and with some rather extravagant speculations on very little evidence named it Australopithecus africanus, meaning man-ape of South Africa. Thus began the great African fossil hunt.
From the moment Dart (1925) announced his missing link, it generated controversy. Most of the authorities in the field rejected it as a young ape and scathingly referred to it as "Dart's child". It divided camps: Grafton Elliot Smith accepted his protege's opinion; Arthur Keith rejected it (Keith 1925a; Keith, Smith, et al. 1925). Even the popular press was divided; most met the announcement with outright derision, but a few of the 1925 headlines proclaimed that the missing link had been found in Africa, and, of course, this stayed on in the public mind (Reader 1981, 89). Everyone seemed to have had his own personal reasons for accepting or rejecting what was really ambiguous evidence for man's link with the ape, and an interesting example of this at the time was General Jan Christiaan Smuts. Smuts was being snubbed politically, losing his position as prime minister of South Africa. Not having a government to run, he was indulging himself in writing a book called Holism and Evolution. Published in 1926, this has become something of a bible to the fringe medicine set of today, but Dart's discovery served nicely to support Smut's evolutionary thesis, while it was hoped that the ensuing publicity for man's origins in South Africa would further the political aims of himself as it supporter. As it happened, the publicity, good or bad, had no effect, and Smuts had to wait another decade to be reelected prime minister of South Africa.
Today, many authorities dismiss the Taung skull as that of a young ape sharing some interesting but irrelevant features with man, while Dart's name has passed into some of the mustier pages of history. More recently, Sir Wilfred le Gros Clark of the British Museum has remarked, "The extraordinary repetitious coincidence between Dart's discovery and that of Dubois in Java ... seemed almost too much of a good thing" (Clark 1967, 26). The coincidence is even more striking when Davidson Black's name is added to that of Dubois and Dart, since all were physicians with a special interest in the evolution of man. All three studied under well-known evolutionists, and went to remote parts of the world. Within a year or two of arrival, each had discovered a missing link. Like Lowell and the Martian canals and Haeckel and the Bathybius haeckelii, all these men (and there have been many since) were committed to a theory and each was easily convinced the evidence had been found to support it.
A whole series of discoveries then began to be made in different parts
of Africa as the trophy seekers moved in, and a plethora of jaw-breaking
names was coined, each claiming a unique position among man's supposed
lineage with the ape. Robert Broom, another physician dedicated to discovering
the missing link, discovered, using very questionable methods, some fossil
hominids at Sterkfontein, South Africa, in 1936 and then discovered more
fossil hominids at the nearby site of Makapansgat Limeworks in 1938. Eventually,
the anthropological fraternity sensed that the situation, with all the
names and claims, was getting out of hand. They called a moratorium, renaming
most of the discoveries under the general classification Australopithecines
the cranial volume was less than 750 cubic centimeters and Pithecanthropines
the volume was greater than 750 cubic centimeters. (More will be said of
this later.) In the meantime the African search has continued into this
present day with the Leakeys and Donald Johanson as the leading contenders.
Louis Leakey, son of a missionary, was born in Africa. In 1959 he and his wife, Mary, working in the great Olduvai Gorge in East Africa, uncovered a skull. They called it Zinjanthropus boisei, meaning Boise's East Africa man; Charles Boise, the American who funded the expedition, thus became immortalized in the annals of science (Leakey 1959). However, the news media dubbed Zinjanthropus "Nutcracker Man" because of the huge jaw relative to the size of the skull (Leakey 1960a).
Olduvai Gorge is about one hundred miles west of Mount Kilimanjaro and consists of the three-hundred-foot-deep gorge that has cut through five main strata. These strata are horizontal beds that were numbered one to five upwards, and the Zinjanthropus skull was found in the lowest layer, Bed I, together with many stone tools of rather crude workmanship. On the basis of this very ape-like skull and the associated tools, Leakey claimed that the creature walked upright, thus giving it rudimentary human attributes and announcing it as the world's earliest man at 600,000 years (Reader 1981, 157). This placed human beginnings much earlier than had been expected, and the whole thing was presented to the public in glorious Kodachrome in the pages of National Geographic (Leakey 1960b). Although the age had been a guess and was, in any case, not believed by many, the discovery was most timely since the Boise funding had run out and a new sponsor was urgently needed; the National Geographic Society responded generously and have funded the Leakeys ever since.
The Zinjanthropus skull was later (1961) dated at the University
of California by applying the potassium-argon radiometric method to the
mineral rock in which the fossil was found and declared to be 1.75 million
years old (Leakey et al. 1961).
This was by far the oldest claim made for any hominid fossil and caused
much controversy but, nevertheless, the resulting publicity nicely served
to further establish in the public mind man's evolutionary heritage from
the ape. More will be said of radiometric dating methods in Chapters Eleven
and Twelve. In 1968 further radiometric tests using the carbon 14 technique
were applied to actual fossil mammalian bones found in the same location,
Olduvai Gorge, but from the uppermost stratum, Bed V (Leakey et al. 1968).
Although normally on top, Bed V occasionally runs beneath Bed I, where
was found. The age of these fossil bones was reported
as 10,100 years, a far cry from 1.75 million years and not particularly
newsworthy. But had this been discovered a few years earlier, Leakey's
claim to have found the most ancient ancestor of man would have been doubted
even more strenuously.
A fully human skeleton, modern in appearance and not disarticulated,
was discovered by Hans Reck in 1913 in Bed II of Olduvai Gorge,
in the stratum immediately above Leakey's Zinjanthropus. In order
to conserve the theory, the facts have now largely disappeared.
(Photograph by Hans Reck)
|There was other, more serious, counterevidence. In 1913 a German anthropologist, Hans Reck, had discovered in Bed II a complete human skeleton together with many fossils of extinct animals, just above the bed where Zinjanthropus was discovered (Bowden 1977, 173). Reck (1914) took great care to ensure that the human remains were not intrusive -- that is, that they had not been deliberately buried or had not slipped down in a crevice from a higher stratum. During the 1930s there was much discussion of these remains, and Louis Leakey (1928) was party to this, having personally examined the remains in Germany. When Leakey announced Zinjanthropus to the press in 1959, he said nothing of the perfectly human remains found immediately above it forty-six years earlier. Had he done so, this would be seen as damaging counterevidence. However, suspicions had been raised within the scientific fraternity, and in 1974 Protsch attempted to carry out some carbon 14 tests on Reck's human skeleton, kept in Munich, but only the skull could be found; all the rest of the skeleton had disappeared. The result obtained was 16,920 years and, although the actual test conditions left a fairly large margin for error, it was far removed from the 1.75 million years claimed for Zinjanthropus (Protsch 1974; Straus and Hunt 1962).|
Louis Leakey had made extravagant claims for Zinjanthropus, allowing his preconceptions to get the better of good science. Later he had to retract his claim that Zinjanthropus resembled modern man more closely than the Australopithecines that had been found in various parts of Africa up to that time. Eventually he conceded that Zinjanthropus was not unique at all but simply another Australopithecine and, thus, in the same category as Dart's Taung child. These creatures are believed by many to be what Keith (1925a) said they were -- extinct apes -- but the popular articles in National Geographic, declaring Zinjanthropus to be man's ancestor, remain fixed in the public mind.
Louis Leakey's concession was made easier by the fact that a lucky discovery in 1964, only a few hundred yards from the Olduvai Gorge, revealed another creature, far more human looking than Zinjanthropus and found at the same stratigraphic level. Dating by the same potassium-argon method showed 1.75 million years (Leakey et al. 1968). It seemed more reasonable that this creature was responsible for all the stone tools that were found at this low level. With the discovery of other scattered parts of the skeleton, including human-looking hand and feet on what was evidently an occupation floor, Leakey announced it as Homo habilis, meaning handyman (Leakey et al. 1964). In Leakey's opinion, Zinjanthropus and the Australopithecines thereby represented aberrant offshoots that eventually died out, but Homo habilis was now claimed as the genuine link in the lineage between mammal and man. Again, this caused much controversy in the scientific press while all the public knew, through the pages of the National Geographic Society magazine and the popular press, was that yet another missing link had been found (Payne 1965).
Olduvai Gorge is a rich fossil source for all kinds of animals, and it had been very carefully excavated by the Leakeys, but authorities opposed to their claim for Homo habilis pointed out that using the association of the tool-making evidence is hardly justified since the same evidence had previously been used for the Zinjanthropus and this claim had been shown to be incorrect. The case for Homo habilis was not strengthened by the facts that one of the hand bones was later found to be a vertebral fragment, two may have belonged to an arboreal monkey, and six came from some unspecified non-hominid (Reader 1981, 189). Many authorities at the time believed that Homo habilis was an Australopithecine. Since Louis Leakey's death in 1972, this has come to be the general, though not universal, opinion.
Finally, Bed I, the lowest stratum at the Olduvai Gorge and the layer
in which Zinjanthropus was found, is described as an occupation
floor where hundreds of fossil animal bones and stone tools were found
(Leakey 1961 ).
The painstaking efforts of Mary Leakey in recording the exact location
of each stone have led to the conclusion that this lowest occupation level
dated at 1.9 million years contains evidence of a circular stone shelter.
This evidence is completely inconsistent with the evolutionary origin of
man, since it is held that man originally lived in caves and only began
to build shelters for himself in the last few thousand years. Naturally,
this is another item that is not widely reported, although interestingly,
John Reader, in his excellent book
Missing Links, not only describes
this feature as "the earliest known evidence of a man-made structure" but
even includes a full-page diagram of the site (Reader 1981, 173).
The "1470" Man
Richard Leakey is Louis Leakey's son. Although he holds no academic credentials, he is a very able administrator and fund raiser and has become something of a public figure, with frequent articles in magazines and books, and appearances on television. The success of African fossil hunting is directly tied to fund raising -- more fossils, especially if hominid, mean more funds, and, conversely, more funds, more fossils. The Leakey fossil preserve is not confined to Olduvai Gorge but extends for hundreds of square kilometers. During part of a systematic search in 1972, the famous 1470 skull was discovered at Lake Rudolf (Leakey 1973). It was fractured into a great many small pieces but when painstakingly reassembled looked very human indeed. The specimen was quite unusual; it consisted of a virtually complete skull except for the lower jaw, but opinions regarding its position in the lineage of man were sharply divided. Leakey maintained that it should be classified as Homo, but others considered it to be another Australopithecine. Leakey's implications were enormous, because the age, according to potassium-argon dating, was 2.6 million years. This could be claimed to be virtually true man appearing in the fossil record long before any of the missing links, whether alleged, hoax, or misrepresentation (Fitch and Miller 1970).
Such is the subjective nature of paleoanthropology that the 1470 skull was judged by others to be Australopithecine rather than have the whole of human evolution upset by one maverick fossil. However, the 1470 case was weakened somewhat by the discovery that the potassium-argon dating method tended to give uncertain results. The first sample of KBS tuff, the rock in which the 1470 fossil was embedded, gave an average age of 221 million years (Fitch and Miller 1976). This was about one hundred times greater than expected, so another sample was sent to the laboratory, and an age of 2.6 million, plus or minus 260,000 years, was produced and found acceptable. It could truly be said, with all the weight of laboratory proof and with tolerance values to substantiate impartiality, that 1470 was the world's oldest man. This is exactly how the headlines were printed, and once again the public was led to believe something that was extremely questionable, to say the least. Further tests on the same KBS tuff by the same method later gave results ranging from a minimum of 290,000 years to a maximum of 19.5 million (Reader 1981, 206).
The only conceivable reason for persisting with the potassium-argon method must surely be because it sometimes provides results that happen to fit the preconceived ideas of the paleoanthropologist. Any other discipline would certainly have rejected it long ago. (More will be said of this method of dating in Chapter Eleven.) After much controversy between geologists, paleontologists, and anatomists, the age of 1470 was quietly reduced to 1.8 million years, the same as Homo habilis (Curds et al. 1975). Richard Leakey's belief remains firm that Homo habilis is the true ancestor of man whereas the Australopithecines were aberrant apes that became extinct (Leakey 1971).
Since the original Charles Boise funding, Leakey's quest for man's ancestors
have cost more than $800,000 in grants (Reader 1981, 197). All this had
to be raised on the basis of a theory introduced a century ago by Charles
Darwin, which says a lot for the power of persuasion by those genuinely
committed to this belief!
Donald Johanson, an American of Swedish parents, had set his mind upon the search for early man as his ultimate ambition. Diligent postgraduate work in anthropology and a measure of good luck brought him to Africa and to the great Rift Valley in southern Ethiopia, where the Omo River cuts through the sedimentary rocks to expose great numbers of animal bones. In the right kind of location, fossil bones from animals always seem to be plentiful enough, and fossil hunters collect and catalogue them by the thousand. Hominid remains, however, are extremely rare and when found are usually only represented by a fragment of bone or even a solitary tooth. In spite of all the claims that have been made for the number of missing links, it has been pointed out that the entire hominid fossil collection found in Africa, from Dart's Taung child to Leakey's 1470 skull, would barely cover a billiard table. In view of this, Johanson's delight at discovering a hominid skeleton about 40 percent complete can perhaps be appreciated. More than that, he was fortunate enough to collect in the same area 197 hominid bones, representing, it is believed, thirteen individuals. These bones represent young and old of both sexes and have given rise to the media's talk of a "family" (Johanson 1976). No skulls were found, which is strangely reminiscent of the Chou K'ou Tien situations, where, however, only skulls, and no bodies, were found.
The hominid skeleton was of a small creature about 100-120 centimeters tall, and except for the lower jaw there was no head, hands, or feet; other hands and feet were subsequently found. It was discovered about Christmas day in 1974 and was believed to be female; Johanson and his workers affectionately named their prize "Lucy" after the Beatles record that was popular at the time. The jaw more closely resembled the chimpanzee than man while without the skull there could be no estimate of brain capacity. Potassium-argon dating had given results from which the range 3.1 to 5.3 million years were selected as the benchmark of belief for the age of "Lucy". However, more vital than the technicalities were the politics. The offering to the world of this long-awaited transition from ape to man could not be done in any haphazard manner. Announcement and publicity had to be carefully orchestrated for maximum effect; after all, research grants were at stake.
Lucy was kept a close secret for nearly four years until the most propitious
Australopithecus afarensis, alias Lucy, was formally
presented at the Nobel Symposium on Early Man in 1978 (Johanson 1979).
The scientific establishment was not overly impressed. As usual, there
was controversy, especially since there were no skulls. The principal contention
seems to be between Johanson's claim for Lucy's being a missing link in
the direct line from the common ancestor of ape and man to man himself
and Leakey's claim that Homo habilis is the missing link. Each considers
the other's claim to be an aberrant offshoot on the way to man. The popular
treatment of Lucy was more favorable, and a book, television appearances,
and numerous articles appeared to keep the latest missing link in the common
consciousness (Johanson and Edey 1981). We can expect discoveries of this
sort to be made every few years, as has happened throughout this century,
and with increasing frequency. At this very moment, who knows how many
discoveries have been made but are in utero, awaiting their moment
for public birth?
The Case of the Stone Age Swindle
In December 1971the North American television audience was treated to a unique jungle meeting between Manuel Elizalde, the Presidential assistant of National Minorities in the then Marcos government, and twenty-four naked dwellers of the Stone–Age. The program was a National Geographic special titled, "The last tribe of the Mindanao." The location was a cave in the thick rain forest of Mindanao, an island of the Philippines in South East Asia. By some quirk of nature evolution had by-passed this tribe of Tasaday people but chance discovery in the latter days of the twentieth-century had permitted complete vindication of Darwin’s ascent of man. The story was later etched in the public mind by print and glorious Kodachrome in the August 1972 issue of National Geographic magazine (142:218).
At the fall of the Marcos government early in 1986, the truth about the Stone-Age tribe began to leak out. A Swiss journalist, Oswald Iten, investigated the affair and reported it in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zeurcher Zeitung (84:77). The story appeared under the banner headline, Steinzeitschwindel – Stone-Age Swindle. It was indeed a swindle and both the National Geographic and the NBC television network had been taken in hook, line and sinker by the "gentle Tasaday."
The mastermind was Elizalde, whose motive was self-aggrandisement and easy money. The NBC had paid Elizalde $50,000 for exclusive rights to the story and had been led to believe that the cave was in a very remote area of the rain forest. The reporters were brought in by helicopter and landed precariously on a small platform on the top of a tree. Unknown to them was the fact that the twenty-four naked occupants of the cave were men, women and children from a modern village just on the other side of the hill and thus beyond the sight of the reporters! They had all rehearsed diligently even affecting the vacant stare of the unenlightened cave dwellers that people the Darwinian imagination. They had also become quite proficient with the hand-held fire drill, ability to climb trees and eat the frogs and grubs that supposedly formed their diet. The "diet" was later discovered to have been cooked even though the tribe had not yet discovered fire!
In spite of the uproar that subsequently occurred among the professional
anthropologists, this swindle was given very little press in North America.
Two articles appeared in rather obscure publications but certainly nothing
on National TV or the pages of National Geographic (Molony 1988
and Dumont 1988). The National Geographic was of course fully aware
of the entire swindle once it had been exposed but disclosed nothing to
its readers and even elevated the story to the event of the century in
its Centenary issue. The final events in this sorry story took a rather
nasty turn as the "Stone-Age people" quickly came into the twentieth century
and took all those concerned to court for having been used in a hoax. Things
got nasty and one of the witnesses was murdered. Nothing more has been
heard of this affair since.
Are Hominids Really Missing Links?
In the previous chapter and in our present discussion, a necessarily brief review of all the major missing links has been made and many little known details included to provide a more balanced picture of what has actually been discovered. For those who prefer their information input neatly pigeonholed, what has been said is concisely summarized in Table 1. Some words of explanation are necessary, however.
In the first place, the word "hominid" in the title embraces all the
missing links and includes true man; this is in contrast to the related
word "hominoid", which has a much broader meaning and includes all the
apes and monkeys. As an aside, it might be added that the branch from the
common ancestor of ape and man to man is said to have occurred about thirty
million years ago, whereas the earliest Australopithecines are dated
about three million years. There is, then, a huge gap of about thirty million
years between this common ancestor and man, using round figures, abounding
with speculation but precious little evidence.
of two fragments of upper and lower jaw, falls into this category and hit
the headlines as a missing link some years ago. It left an impression in
the public mind then quietly faded away as controversy continued within
the ranks of the enlightened (Pilbeam 1970b).
MAJOR HOMINID DISCOVERIES
Secondly, the use of the figure 750 cubic centimeters as the boundary between the Australopithecines and the Pithecanthropines is not entirely arbitrary and was proposed by Arthur Keith on the basis that it is the size of the brain that is the principal distinguishing feature between ape and man (Keith 1948, 206). The largest known brain size for the apes is the gorilla at 650 cubic centimeters (almost three kitchen cups), while the smallest size recorded for man -- actually it was a woman -- was 855 cubic centimeters. Thus 750 cubic centimeters falls nicely between these two limits. Anything greater than 750 is reckoned to be man and is classified as the genus Homo; Java man, with a capacity estimated to be 850 cubic centimeters, and Peking man, with an alleged average capacity of 1,000 cubic centimeters, are assigned as Homo erectus, or near man, while the Neanderthals have a capacity of about 1,500 cubic centimeters, slightly greater than humans today, and are assigned as Homo sapiens. Anything less than 750 cubic centimeters is regarded as an extinct ape on the way to becoming man. It should be mentioned in passing that the Australopithecines seem to fall into two types assigned as gracile and robustus. The former is a daintier version of the robustus, which is massive in all respects except, of course, cranial capacity. Richard Leakey believes these are the female and male versions, respectively, of the same species of extinct ape (Walker and Leakey 1978, 63); this opinion, however, is not shared by all.
From what has been said of these fossil discoveries, it will be evident that very often the skulls are not only incomplete but, in some cases, entirely absent. Cranial capacity, therefore, cannot be used as a means of classification. Dentition, or teeth, then becomes a key item. Many times the fossil representing the "individual" is a jawbone or even a single tooth -- in one case merely the crown of a tooth rates as an "individual", though better science has by now cautioned against an entire flesh reconstruction of the creature on such a basis!
The ideal ape-to-man transition would have a dental arcade midway
between the parabola of true man and the U-shape of the ape.
Apes generally have a U-shaped dental arcade with large canine teeth -- the fangs -- and a corresponding gap, or diastema, in the opposite jaw to enable the animal to close its mouth. Man, on the other hand, has a parabolic, or curved, dental arcade and rather small canines with no diastema. Any fossil jaw found that has intermediate characteristics is thus considered an immediate candidate for an ape-to-man transition. Ramapithecus punjabicus fell into this category, and since no one has any idea what the rest of the animal looked like, it has to be conceded that using such evidence to substantiate a theory that man evolved from the ape is really only speculation in the guise of science. Indeed, the already controversial case of Ramapithecus was considerably weakened when it was discovered that a baboon living today, Theropithecus galada, has human-like dental characteristics very much like those of the fossil Ramapithecus (Pilbeam 1970b).
The geological strata is the third consideration and is the oldest and most established method, which, in spite of being based on circular reasoning and assumptions pointed out in Chapter Four, has now become sacrosanct and placed beyond question. The method relies on the index fossils found associated with the hominid remains and provides the appropriate period in geological history. When there is doubt or a lack of index fossils, paleoanthropology falls back on the solid reliability of physics and applies the potassium-argon method of dating not to the fossil but to the associated rock.
Heads, teeth, and geological strata then become the three major parameters that determine a candidate hominid's position in the lineage to man. It might be recalled that all three are based on the evolutionary assumptions that the brain became larger, that the teeth become smaller and more rounded, and that the degree of progression is consistent with what would be expected in the past two or three million years. In a nutshell, this is the reasoning underlying classification. For example, if a piece of thighbone is found and it is felt to be Australopithecine, then as many potassium-argon dating trials as can be afforded are made, until a result of about two million years is obtained. This value is accepted together with the tolerance figures and becomes proof for formal classification. Of course, it becomes very awkward in those cases, such as Java man and Peking man, now classified as Australopithecines, which were dated prior to the introduction of the potassium-argon method (about 1950) at only half a million years. Little wonder there is controversy and as many ape-to-man (including extinct ape-to-man) ancestral trees as there are specialists working in the field of paleoanthropology. With all due respect to Richard Leakey, his Homo habilis has been listed under Australopithecines in Table 1 simply because most authorities think that is where it should be, in spite of Leakey's claim that it belongs to the Genus Homo.
The numbers in the table refer to the number of "individuals" found, but these vary from one authority to another. As previously mentioned, it must be kept in mind that an "individual" is usually represented by only a part of a bone or, at most, a handful of bones. Some of the smaller discoveries have been omitted for the sake of clarity, so that, for example, Great Britain is not included since the only claim to date is of a small part of a cranium found in 1935, known as the Swanscombe skull and classified as Homo sapiens. The Americas are notable by their absence, but not because hominid fossils have not been found on the western side of the Atlantic -- the Calaveras skull and the Guadeloupe skeleton mentioned in the previous chapter and the Laguna skeleton from California, described by Ceram (1971b), come to mind -- but because there is a general reluctance to admit the evidence. The reasoning is not difficult to perceive: having man evolve from the ape on one continent is improbable enough, but having man evolve simultaneously and independently on two continents presumably lies beyond the bounds of credulity of even the most hardened Darwinist, and the prejudiced mind naturally rejects the evidence.
Before deciding to accept or reject the evidence surveyed so far as transitional forms between ape and man, two more aspects should be considered. Until now all that has been described has been based on subjective analysis. In other words, the fossil hunter looking for human origins will, when confronted with a piece of jawbone, look at it and compare it visually with a corresponding bone from a true ape and another from a true man. From the details of shape and size, he will make a judgment on whether the fossil is from true ape, true man, or something unknown but lying in between.
Human judgment, however, is notoriously fallible and is especially susceptible to preconceived ideas (not to mention driven by the necessity for research grants); good science tries hard to remove the human element from the judgment of results. The classical way to do this is by statistical analysis. Fortunately, today there are computer facilities that take the drudgery out of this work. What in the past would be inconceivable in terms of man-hours of calculation is now routine. The bones of a pygmy and those of a heavyweight wrestler will be quite different in size and, in some respects, in shape also, yet this is the variation possible within true man. A similar argument applies to chimpanzees, gorillas, and the orangutans; today there are a great deal of data available on the variations in body bones and especially teeth possible for these creatures. Finally, to make a statistical and objective evaluation, a number of fossil bones of the same type are required to compare the variation possible in the hominid candidate with the variation known in a similar bone in true ape and true man. This has now become possible with the recovery of "families" of some hominids, where a number of bones of the same type have been found.
Charles Oxnard of the University of Chicago has carried out a multivariate statistical analysis of a series of Australopithecus bones, including pelvis, ankle, foot, elbow, and hand, and compared these with corresponding true ape and true man bones. According to Oxnard (1975) the analysis shows that Australopithecus was not intermediate between man and ape but was uniquely different. Australopithecus was, in fact, as different from both man and the apes as each is from the other.
Another well-respected worker in this area of objective analysis by statistical computer techniques is Sir Solly Zuckerman. He compared forty-eight dental parameters of the Swartkrans Australopithecines with those of eighty chimpanzees, ninety gorillas, and fifty orangutans, and these results showed that these fossils were more like apes than like man (Ashton and Zuckerman 1950).
This leads us, finally, to the studies of real apes and real men, since so far in these two chapters all the claims for intermediate forms have been based on fossil bones. It has been pointed out in Chapter Six that we can tell nothing of blood grouping or chromosomal pattern from a fossil, and these are vital areas to determine phylogenetic relationships. Apes do look and act like humans, while the chimps' tea party at the zoo enhances this impression. Then again, there are some humans who, at first sight, seem to have swung out of the jungle trees just a generation or so ago. But of course these are just impressions, and those who study anatomy will tell us that there are far more differences than similarities between ape and man (Coon 1965; Huxley 1901, 7:77).[30-31]
The ape has forty-eight chromosomes and man has forty-six. This raises the questions of at what point in the transition from ape to man the two chromosomes became lost, and how they produced fertile offspring when this loss occurred randomly to some and not others. To take another example, the ape has a bacculum or ospenis (a bone in the penis) and man does not. It might be asked, therefore, at what point in the line of transition the bone was replaced by the fluid mechanism, bearing in mind that it had to work flawlessly the first time in order to propagate the race (Metchnikoff 1907, 81).
The most important area of difference between man and the animal kingdom is the ability to communicate thoughts and abstract ideas to his fellow man through speech. It is commonly assumed that our spoken words developed from the grunts and howls of man's social ape ancestors, while great efforts have been made to confirm this notion by teaching apes to communicate with humans. But in spite of all the effort, and not a little controversy, Terrace (1979) has shown that the entire exercise is nothing more than the animals' response, causing the researchers to be self-deluded. The question might then well be asked, just who is making a monkey out of whom? Although scholars debate the pronunciation of words in ancient languages, when all is said and done our record of the spoken language only extends to the beginning of mechanical recording -- barely a century. The arguments, it is safe to say, are based on opinions. In contrast, the written language extends back approximately five thousand years, and here the study of human communication shows an interesting, though little publicized, pattern. Kluckhohn notes, "In contrast to the general course of cultural evolution, languages move from the complex to the simple" (Kluckhohn 1949, 149). A second linguistic expert, Elgin, is more specific and says, "The most ancient languages for which we have written texts ... Sanskrit, for example ... are often more intricate and complicated in their grammatical forms than many contemporary languages" (Elgin 1973, 44). This same trend is acknowledged, for instance, by Shakespeare's being included in the high-school English class as an illustration of the English language at its best. The decline is even apparent when one compares the writers of today with those of just a century ago. The significance of this observation is that, for the period over which we have written records, the data substantiates the traditional view that man has fallen rather than ascended. But then five thousand years is a mere drop in the bucket compared with two million years, if indeed we can believe the radiometric dating methods.
* * *
|Following the maxim that a good picture is worth a thousand words, Thomas Huxley had this drawing prepared from specimens in the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons for his essay On the Relations of Man to the Lower Animals in 1863. It has been repeated endlessly in various forms since that date. The gibbon was mistakenly reproduced at twice scale. (Author's collection)||
When all is considered in this matter of missing links, the lives and
lifestyles of the handful of individuals making the claims are believed
to be important, because it is such a highly subjective discipline, heavily
dependent upon what the seeker wants to find. Academic credentials are
no guarantee, as we have seen in the case of the Piltdown affair, while
it seems that absence of credentials is no guarantee either, as in Richard
Leakey's case. What it ultimately boils down to is the individual's commitment
to a belief system. We have seen in this brief overview that details of
the claims for discovery of some likely-looking fossil continually shift
as the claimants jockey for the prized position exactly between true ape
and true man. Failure to report all the facts often results in less than
honest and open discussion, and controversy abounds. Sir Solly Zuckerman
is a champion of the evolutionary position yet makes the following statement
regarding the fossil discoveries: "No scientist could logically dispute
the proposition that man, without having been involved in any act of divine
creation, evolved from some ape-like creature in a very short space of
time -- speaking in geological terms -- without leaving any fossil traces
of the steps of the transformation" (Zuckerman 1971, 64). Here, an authority
in the field of anthropology admits that there is no fossil evidence to
link the higher mammals with man and hints at some sort of miraculous conversion.
As we saw in Chapter Six, Gould has unwittingly implied this very thing
with his theory of punctuated equilibria. The reader should weigh the evidence
for himself and decide whether to believe the claim that proof has been
found for man's relationship to the ape or to consider the alternate possibility,
that all the Australopithecines and Pithecanthropines are
nothing more than true, but extinct, apes.