Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Response to David Wilcox
Glenn Morton, ASA Member
16075 Longvista Dr.
Dallas, TX 75248
From: PSCF 48 (September 1996): 212.
In regard to David Wilcox's "Adam Where Are You? Changing Paradigms in Paleoanthropology" (PSCF 48:2, June 1996, 88-96), I would like to suggest that more recent data has changed many of the factual statements made in the article.
The article begins with the statement that paleoanthropology is in a state of crisis. The reference supporting this statement discusses the Out-of-Africa view vs. the Multiregional Model of human origins.1 I was unable to find the word "crisis" or a synonym anywhere in the article. The authors certainly do not give any indications that paleoanthropology is in trouble. They simply attack the Multiregional Model.
Wilcox (p. 89) states that Neanderthal had "questionable phonetic ability". This was based on the work of Phillip Lieberman.2 Lieberman claimed that the Neanderthal vocal tract was different from modern human vocal tracts preventing the formation of vowels. Lieberman's work predicted that the Neanderthal hyoid bone when eventually found would be radically different. This was disproved by the 1990 discovery of a complete Neanderthal hyoid bone, the first hominid hyoid (Adam's apple) ever found, which is identical to those in modern humans.3
Wilcox (p. 90) claims that Neanderthal is the ancestor of modern humans and claims that modern humans appeared first. Neither statement is correct. It has been many years since the prevailing belief was that Neanderthal was the direct linear ancestor of anatomically modern humans. Anatomically modern humans first appear in deposits dated 130,000 years B.P.4 and Neanderthals first appear at Erhingsdorf, Germany and the remains are dated to 230,000 years ago.5
Wilcox states (p. 92) that the Mousterian culture arose around 100,000 years ago. The oldest Mousterian culture is dated to 250,000 years ago, very close to the first appearance of Neanderthals.6
The statement is made (p. 91) that there is no evidence of culture among Homo erectus. Among the earliest Homo erectus sites are found chunks of red ochre, a material with no known stone age use except body painting.7 Microscopic examination of the edges of the stone tools of Homo erectus reveals wear patterns consistent with wood working and leather working.8 Body painting and wood and leather working strongly imply a being with a culture.
The author (p. 93) compares the tool making ability of Neanderthals with that of Kanzi the chimp who has been taught to make stone tools. Neanderthals are called imitators but "not creative inventors." This comparison is quite flawed as the teachers of Kanzi note: "Moreover, Kanzi's progress so far as a tool maker suggests to us that early Oldowan hominids may exhibit a much greater cognitive understanding of the principles and mechanics of tool making than modern apes seem to be able to develop."9 Neanderthal tools were much more complex than Oldowan tools which appear in rocks dated 2.4 million years ago.
The claim is made that there is no evidence of art among the Neanderthals (p. 92). Admittedly, the amount of art is small by comparison with the Magdalenian culture, but to say that there is none is wrong. Pendants made of reindeer phalanx and fox canine have been found in deposits dated at 50,000 years B.P.10 Coloring pencils, made from minerals, have been found at many sites. It is not known what these pencils were coloring but they appear to have been artist tools. A fossil nummulite was found at Tata, Hungary, with a cross inscribed on it.11 This came out after the Wilcox paper went to press, but the cover photo on the May 16, 1996 Nature shows a Neanderthal necklace which was either made or traded for by the Neanderthal.12
The anatomically modern people who constituted the Azilian culture (ca. 12,500-9,500) produced art no more spectacular than pebbles with lines, crosses, and dots on them.13 If Neanderthal is to be excluded from humanity for only having simple art, then so should the Azilians.
1C. B. Stringer and P. Andrews, "Genetic and Fossil Evidence for the Origin of Modern Humans," Science 239 (1988): 1263-1268.
2P. Lieberman and E. S. Crelin, "On the Speech of Neanderthal Man," Linguistic Inquiry 2 (1971): 203-222.
3B. Arensburg, et al., "A Reappraisal of the Anatomical Basis for Speech in Middle Palaeolithic Hominids,"American Journal of Physical Anthropology 83 (1990): 137-146.
4Chris Stringer and Clive Gamble, In Search of the Neanderthals, (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993), 218.
6James R. Shreeve, The Neanderthal Enigma, (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1995), 139.
7D. Bruce Dickson, The Dawn of Belief, (Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press, 1990), 42-44.
8Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), 271.
10Victor Barnouw, An Introduction to Anthropology: Physical Anthropology and Archaeology, Vol. 1, (Homewood, Illinois: The Dorsey Press, 1982), 156.
11Leslie Freeman, "The Development of Human Culture," in Andrew Sherratt ed., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Archaeology, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 85
12J-J Hublin, et al., "A Late Neanderthal Associated with Upper Palaeolithic Artefacts," Nature 381 (May 16, 1996): 224-226.
13Dickson, The Dawn of Belief, 83.