“Early Man Becomes Early Ape” is the headline of an article in Nature News, 17 June 2009, referring to an article in Nature, vol. 459, p899 18 June 2009. Fourteen years ago anthropologist Russell Ciochon, (University of Iowa), and colleagues identified a fragment of jaw with two teeth attached as a fossil hominid, possibly Homo habilis, which they believed to be an early human ancestor. The fossil was found in the Longgupo cave in Sichuan province, China, and as it was dated at 1.9 million years old, it was considered the oldest Homo fossil in Asia. This led to some debate about the evolution of humans outside Africa. According to Nature, “The discovery of two apparent stone tools, the jaw and a tooth that is indisputably Homo — found in nearby sediments — stoked speculation that Homo erectus may have evolved outside of Africa.”

Four years ago Ciochon examined a collection of fossils at Guangxi Zhuang Natural History Museum in Nanning, China, including eight teeth that resembled the teeth found at Longgupo. This has led Ciochon to change his mind about the jaw fragment and re-classify it as an ape fossil. At the time of the original report some anthropologists, including Jeffrey Schwartz at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, suggested that it was from an “orangutan-like species” and palaeoanthropologist Dennis Etler, now at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, commented: “I never thought it was Homo, but akin to apes.” Jeffrey Schwartz commented about Ciochon’s reclassification of the fossil: “It is not often that a scientist says he changes his mind. This openness is good.”

Editorial Comment: We commend Ciochon’s boldness and integrity and hope we could live up to the standard he has set when we make such mistakes in judgement in favour of creation. This story is also a good reminder that the story of human evolution is a big story built of small fragments. The fossil record purported to prove evolution of humans from apes consists of many bone fragments and teeth, rather than whole skeletons, and because of their fragile nature very few people get to examine the original fossils or see them in their original context. Ciochon’s openness to new evidence is good, and it makes us wonder how many other fragmentary fossils classified as “Homo something” are really ape fossils.

Ciochon’s honesty may be appreciated by his scientific colleagues, but it seems the popular media who normally report on articles in Nature have not appreciated the loss of some evidence for human evolution. Did you see this story reported in your local news services that only the month before (May 2009) were full of Ida (a fossil lemur-like animal) as a new missing link? (Ref. hominids, anthropology, scientific method)

Evidence News 8 July 2009