Homo naledi: Ape, Human, or Somewhere In Between?

by guest author Josh B.

A recent discovery of bones in a South African cave has sent the science community into a frenzy. Some are claiming that these bones are a step along the evolutionary path to humans, others say that the bones are simply ape bones, and some are saying the bones belong to humans. Regardless, the scientific community is making a big deal out of this find. One of the reasons for this is because there is limited access to the cave. There are also very few bones from other creatures in this cave, which some paleoanthropologists are taking to mean that these bones were buried in some sort of ritualistic funeral ceremony.

Scientists are jumping to conclusions based on few facts. While there may be thousands of bones in this cave, it is difficult to determine how many skeletons there are. None of them are complete. Additionally, just because the cave is difficult to enter now, doesn’t mean that this was always so. As we teach on our tours at Akron Fossils, and as many other scientists have shown, geological activity can occur rapidly. It does not take millions of years for things to get buried. Mud slides, for example, move very quickly and can bury things in several feet of thick sediment.

These bones are scattered throughout the cave which will make it difficult to fully study. Furthermore, if these bones were buried in a ritualistic manner, that does not prove that these creatures are a step in human evolution. Humans themselves may have buried these bones in a ritualistic manner. People all over the globe throughout history have worshipped animals. We cannot so quickly dismiss this possibility.

We can also look at this discovery another way. What if the bones that were discovered are not ape bones at all, but are actually human remains? This could easily account for the apparent, yet unproven, idea that these bones were buried with purpose. The remains that have been removed from the site for further study are being touted as an evolutionary step between apes and humans because of skull size. However, this means very little. The skulls are fragmented, so determining their actual size is difficult. If we take these scientist’s measurements as accurate though, the skulls still fall within the range of human skulls. Even today, there are people of various sizes. We cannot assume that this did not happen in the past as well.

Even evolutionary scientists are dubious of some of the claims the paleoanthropologist leading this research, Lee Berger, is making. Many of them are pointing out his ability to play to a crowd. He has also previously made claims that were refuted by respected evolutionary scientists, such as claims regarding the discovery of Australopithecus sediba. Darren Curnoe, a paleoanthropologist himself, has stated that a person’s worldview strongly influences one’s conclusions; which indicates that Berger is simply seeing what he wants to see.

What will become of all of this? At the time of this article, more research is being conducted. Who knows what will be discovered when the research is complete. One thing is certain, however. The bones are either ape or they are human. They are not a step along the evolutionary path.

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” – Psalm 139:14



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About Akron Fossils & Science Center

Akron Fossils & Science Center features hands-on tours and science activities that put knowledge directly in your hands. Our exhibits display many fossils from Ohio and around the world. In addition to our guided tours, we offer a wide variety of enriching science programs, all hands-on and designed to make science and learning fun and meaningful. We also look forward to having you enjoy our 2 1/2 acre outdoor adventure park called Truassic Park. Our park features a 9-hole mini golf course, giant slide, and 200 FT ZIP- LINE! At Akron Fossils & Science Center, participants and visitors become more than observers; they become researchers, experimenters, and even educators. Our exhibits and programs let you experience science first-hand and encourage understanding and deep, critical thought. A trip to Akron Fossils & Science Center provides more than something to do for one day; it ignites a passion for learning and exploration that lasts a lifetime.

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