Alleged 7 Million-Year-Old "Hominid" Fossil: 
More Hype than Substance
by Patrick Young, Ph.D.


 
The Britain based Journal of Nature recently published a report on 07/10/02 about a French team of archeologists who discovered a skull that they propose is from "the earliest known hominid on record." 1 Since then, several news outlets have announced the story proclaiming that a new missing link in human ancestry has been found.2 While the bone fragments of this 7 million-year-old fossil are sparse, it is not the first time a human ancestor conclusion has been proposed from inadequate data.3 Moreover, it has become commonplace for news outlets when reporting these discoveries, to attempt a pictorial representation depicting an imaginary ape / human creature from grossly insufficient scientific information.4 However, these irresponsible drawings so far, have been held in check.

The perceived 7 million-year-old fossil discovery consists of a distorted cranium, a jaw fragment and miscellaneous teeth.5 The authors report this fossil possesses a "mosaic of features" including ape, australopithecine, and human characteristics.6 These conclusions appear to be derived from the skull shape and measured diameters of the various teeth. Passing references are also made to brow ridges and the size of the cranial vault.

The creature, called Sahelanthropus tchadensis, was found close to the western Djurab desert of northern Chad in central Africa.7 The fossil is significant to Darwinists for the following reasons: (1) Most evolutionists believe that human origins began in Eastern and / or Southern Africa and this is the first and oldest fossil of its kind to be found in the central portion of the African continent -- (2) Most evolutionists believe that humans and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor about 5 million years ago so a 7 million-year-old fossil challenges this opinion -- (3) The authors say this fossil has characteristics that are not associated with many of the most ancient australopithecines.

Realistically because of the scarcity and fragmentary nature of fossils, evolutionists tend to extract more information from the actual evidence than they should. Although tooth characteristics are interesting in the determination of diet, etc., it is arguable this data has any evolutionary significance. Several evolutionists agree that tooth diameters are too variable to draw conclusions about evolutionary change.8-10 This thinking would certainly question the idea that sizable differences in tooth diameter would automatically constitute a taxonomically distinct fossil.

There were no post-cranial fragments associated with this discovery. While it is possible to gain some limited information on posture, virtually nothing can be extracted about limb proportions, hands and feet, or locomotion repertoires. The authors state the skull looks like a chimpanzee from the back and an advanced australopithecine from the

front.11 If this 7 million-year age is accepted, it is debatable even by the most liberal evolutionary standards, that this creature would show any facial features of an australopithecine. Furthermore, this would eliminate from their perceived human evolutionary tree any hominid creature with more primitive facial features (of which there are numerous).12

The cranial vault was measured to be about 320 - 380 cm3 . This places the creature at approximately the same size as extant chimpanzees. Evolutionists appear to place a high degree of emphasis on the cranial vault size when discussing human origins. It is well known that the fossil record shows a steady increase in brain size when comparing the most ancient australopithecines to Homo sapiens, but it is debatable what this observation actually means.13 Personally, I would expect a human brain to be larger than an ape regardless of any evolutionary belief! Furthermore, it is well documented that absolute brain size does not dictate intelligence; but rather how the brain is wired.14

Even though brow ridges do not appear to be a primary consideration in this discovery, they are mentioned and have been extensively used in the past as a defining factor in explaining human evolution. These heavy protrusions, just above the eyebrow, are profoundly evident in several ancient human and ape fossils. They have been used as pictorial evidence to persuade the unsuspecting masses that a historical evolutionary pathway has been documented. Conversely, some paleontologists have suggested these ridges can be a shared feature that does not require a common ancestor.15 Others have concluded that these brow ridges exist because of dietary differences and have nothing to do with evolution at all.16

Although the authors are convinced this fossil is between six and seven million years old, the fossil layers are impossible to date using existing isotopic and paleomagnetic methods.17 Their conclusion about the span of time is derived from indirect dating methods using related fauna located in contrasting areas of Africa.18 The evolutionary belief is that this fauna is only found in one isolated layer of the geologic column. If the absolute date of a specific layer of the geologic column is known, then an indirect comparison is believed to be possible. Since similar fauna in a different area of Africa previously dated at six to seven million years by the potassium argon method, the authors have concluded the layers surrounding their recent fossil discovery are also this old. While this type of methodology appears to be acceptable to both the evolutionist community and the reviewers of this article, the validity is shaky at best.19 Furthermore, the fundamental problems of potassium argon dating are well documented, making it a less than optimum method for absolute dating tests.20

There are several paleontologists who do not even agree that this fossil is a human ancestor. Brigitte Senut of the Natural History Museum in Paris told Reuters that certain aspects of the skull deemed to be humanlike are actually characteristics of sexual dimorphism in female gorillas.21,22,23 "Other respected paleoanthropologists…. see it as one side of the big primitive monkeys." 24,25,26 Chris Stringer of the Human Origins Group at the Natural History Museum of London says, " I don’t think we can really say yet that it’s a human relative, or even whether it’s male or female." 27

The final analysis of this announcement is typical. Militant evolutionists and the major news media are so biased towards evolution, they are willing to bypass good scientific practices and honest journalism to promote their beliefs. While dentition patterns, facial observations, and brow ridges are interesting phenomena, they are not satisfactory criteria in and of themselves to draw major conclusions about fossils. When evaluating all the information known at this point, it is clear that any conclusion supporting the human ancestry of this discovery is more dogma than science.

Bibliography

1. Brunet, M., Guy, F., Pilbeam, D., Mackaye, H. T., Likius, A., Ahounta, D., Beauvilain, A., Blondel, C., Bocherens, H., Bolsserie, J.R., De Bonis, L., Coppens, Y., Dejax, J., Cenys, C., Duringer, P., Elsenmann, V., Fanone, G., Fronty, P., Geraada, D., Lehmann, T., Lihoreau, F., Louchart, A., Mahamat, A., Merceron, G., Mouchelin, G., Otero, O., Campomanes, P.P., De leon, M. P., Rage, J.C., Sapanet, M., Schuster, M., Sudre, J., Tassy, P., Valentin, X., Vignaud, P., Viriot, L., Zazzo, A., Zollikofer, C. 2002. A new hominid from the upper miocene of Chad, Central Africa. Nature 418: 145-151.
2. http://www.msnbc.com/news/778622.asp  (link no longer active)
3. http://creationists.org/patrickyoung/article03.html
4. http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101010723
5. Wood, B. 2002. Hominid revelation from Chad. Nature 418: 133-135.
6. Ref. 1., Ref. 2., Ref. 5.
7. Vignaud, P., Duringer, P., Mackaye, H. T., Likius, A., Blondel, C., Boisserie, J.R., de Bonis, L., Eisnmann, V., Etienne, M.E., Geraads, D., Guy, F., Lehmann, T., Lihoreau, F., Lopex-Martiney, N., Mourer-Chauvire, C., Otero, O., Rage, J.C., Schuster, M., Viriot, L., Zazzo, A., Brunet, M. 2002. Geology and palaeontology of the upper miocene Toros-Menalla hominid locality, Chad. Nature 418: 152-156.
8. Conroy, G., Vannier, M. 1991. Dental development in South African australopithecines. Part 1: Problems of patterns and chronology. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 86:121-136.
9. Kuykendall, K.L., 1996., Dental development in chimpanzees (pan troglodytes): The timing of tooth calcification stages. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 99: 135-158.
10. Smith, B.H. 1991. Dental development and the evolution of life history in Hominidae. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 86: 157 – 174.
11. Ref. 1.
12. Ref. 5.
13. Wood, B., Collard, M. 2001. The human Genus. Science 284:5411.
14. Martin, R.D., 1983. Human brain evolution in an ecological context (American Museum of Natural History, New York).
15. Lieberman, D.E. In Development, Growth and Evolution: Implications of the Study of the Hominid skeleton. (O’Higgins, P., Cohn, M.J., eds.) (Academic Press, London), pp. 85-122.
16. Waechter, J. 1986. Prehistoric Man: The Fascinating Story of Man’s Evolution. (Exeter Books, New York). 1986, pp. 30, 49.
17. Ref. 5
18. Ref. 5
19. Woodmorappe, M.A. 1999. The mythology of modern dating methods (Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, Ca.).
20. Ref. 19
21. http://msnbc.com/news/779463.asp?pne=msn&cpl=1  (link no longer active)
22. http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=search&storyID=1195195&fromemail=true
23. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_2125000/2125244.stm (link is no longer active)
24. Ref. 21.
25. Ref. 22.
26. Ref. 23.
27. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/07/0710_020710_chadskull.html (link is no longer active).

Patrick H. Young is a resident of Central Ohio. He has a Ph.D. in Chemistry and been employed in industry as a research chemist and materials scientist for over 17 years. He has a website at creationists.org/patrickyoung.html and his email address is patrickyoung@creationists.org.


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