Science in Christian Perspective
By Glenn R. Morton*
70 Harvest Wind Place
The Woodlands, TX 77382
From: PSCF 51 (September 1999): 145
On November 28, 1998, a chance discovery uncovered the 24,500-year-old skeleton of a child at Abrigo do Lagar Velho, Portugal. The four-year-old had been buried with a pierced shell and was covered with red ochre. The ochre was confined to the region of the body, suggesting that the body had been wrapped prior to burial.1 When the child was examined several odd features were discovered. The child had a mixture of Neanderthal and anatomically modern human traits. Eric Trinkaus, an authority on Neanderthals, was called to examine the child. According to the report, the childís skull, mandible, and pubic proportions are those of a modern human. The ratio of femur length/tibia length and certain muscle attachments clearly display Neanderthal characteristics. The authors of the report confidently state that this child is a Neanderthal/modern human hybrid.
In an accompanying commentary, Tattersall and Schwartz claim that this is not evidence of hybridization and that the child is merely a stocky anatomically modern human. However, there are several genetic problems with such a concept. First, Neanderthals lived in glaciated Europe and adapted to the extreme cold by evolving short legs in which the crural index (ratio of tibia length divided by the femur length) was lower than most Neanderthals. Neanderthals had crural indices averaging around 0.79. Anatomically modern humans were hypothesized to have come out of Africa and invaded Europe and thus, were the Cro-Magnon peoples. They brought with them their heat-adapted body shapes that had crural indices much higher than those of the Neanderthals. Anatomically modern Europeans, even those from 3020,000 years ago, have an average crural index of .84.2 The Abrigo do Lagar Velho child had a crural index of 0.78. Since no anatomically modern European human remains from 33,000 to 22,000 years have crural indices lower than 0.82, one must wonder where the child got the genetics for such Neanderthal-proportioned legs if, as Tattersall and Schwartz suggest, he was just a stocky modern human.3 There are no known examples.
Secondly, in e-mail conversation with Trinkaus, he mentioned that the pectoralis major muscle insertion is diagnostic of Neanderthal ancestry, even in the juvenile state.4 The Abrigo do Lagar Velho child has the Neanderthal-style pectoralis major muscle insertion yet none of the anatomically modern humans have that morphology. Once again, if this child is not a hybrid, the question must be raised as to where the child obtained the genes for this trait since modern humans did not possess it. The simplest explanation is that it is a hybrid.
Since the initial report and commentary, Trinkaus and Zilhao have bitterly attacked Tattersall and Schwartz charging them with misrepresentation of the views of others and numerous anatomical errors.5 This is not the first time in the anthropological literature that such errors have been charged against Tattersall and Schwartz.6
The implications for Christian apologetics are clear. If this child is a hybrid, it means that humans were capable of interbreeding with Neanderthals and thus Neanderthals were us. This implies that they too were spiritual beings, as a possible Neanderthal religious altar suggests.7 And if they were spiritual beings, it means that commonly accepted apologetical schemes need drastic revision.
1Cidalia Duarte, et al., "Human skeleton from the Abrigo do Lagar Velho (Portugal) and modern human emergence in Iberia," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 96, Issue 13 (June 22, 1999): 7604ñ9.
2David W. Frayer, "Evolution at the European Edge: Neanderthal and Upper Paleolithic Relationships," Prehistoire Europeenne, 2: 9ñ69, Figure 9, p. 68 and p. 33. For a discussion of this, see:
3Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey H. Schwartz, "Commentary Hominids and hybrids: The place of Neanderthals in human Evolution," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 96, Issue 13 (June 22, 1999): 7117ñ9.
4Personal Communication, e-mail, July 6, 1999, 5:35 p.m.
6Robert G. Franciscus, "Neanderthal Nasal Structures and Upper Respiratory Tract Specialization," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 96, Issue 13 (June 22, 1999): 1805ñ9.
7Mark Berkowitz, "Neanderthal News," Archaeology (Sept./ Oct. 1996): 22; and Robert G. Bednarick, "Neanderthal News," The Artefact 19 (1996): 104.