Table of Contents
Vol.2: Genesis and Early Man
THE SUPPOSED EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1. The Problems
in Determining the Age of a Skull
Chapter 2. The Factors Influencing
the Shape of a Skull
1957 Doorway paper No.9, published privately
by Arthur C. Custance: original title: "The Influence of Diet, Habits,
Disease, Climate, and Other Environmental Pressures in Modifying the Human
Skull and Its Bearing on the Theory of Human Evolution."
1975 (revised) Part I in Genesis and Early Man, vol.2 in
The Doorway Papers Series, published by Zondervan Publishing Company
1997 Arthur Custance Online Library (html)
2001 2nd Online Edition (corrections, design revisions)
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The Problems in Determining the
Age of a Skull
One and the same piece of evidence
will assume totally different aspects according to the angle
-- paleontological or historical -- from which we view it. We
shall see it either as a link in one of the many evolutionary
series that the paleontologist seeks to establish, or as something
connected with remote historical action. . . . Let me state
clearly that for my part, I have not the slightest doubt that
the remains of early man known to us, should be judged historically.
Portmann, Das Ursprungsproblem,
PRIOR TO MORE
recent developments of techniques for dating by means of radioactive
materials, there were fundamentally only two methods of estimating
the age of a fossil. The first was the geological level at which
the specimen was found. The second, applying more particularly
to human fossils, was the general appearance: whether apish and
"primitive," or essentially like modern man. These
two criteria are still largely applied, since the majority of
the more ancient remains of early man are completely fossilized
and C-14 methods
of dating cannot be used.
But it has long been recognized
that if the fossil remains of early man are arranged according
to their degree of primitiveness, the order will be found to
contradict the series arranged on the basis of antiquity as established
by the levels at which they are found. This led Franz Weidenreich
to formulate the following rule: (1)
In determining the character
of a given fossil form and its special place in the line of human
evolution, only its morphological features should be made the
basis of decision: neither the location of the site
1. Weidenreich, Franz, "The Skull of
Sinanthropus pekinensis: A Comparative Study on a Primitive Hominid
Skull," Paleontologica Sinica, N.S.D., no.10, Whole
series, vol.127, 1943, p.1.
where it was recovered, nor the geological
nature of the layer in which it was embedded is important.
Leigh van Valen, (2)
of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of
Chicago, in reviewing Evolutionary Biology by Theodosius
Dobzhansky et. al., notes that "three of the contributors
(all paleontologists) conclude that stratigraphic position is
totally irrelevant to determination of phylogeny and almost say
that no known taxon is derived from any other. . . " It
certainly seems brash, therefore, of the proponents of an African
genesis for Homo sapiens to keep putting man's beginnings
further and further back on the basis of the estimated age of
the strata in which the fossils are being found.
Now the view held by Weidenreich
had become necessary because, if read in any other way, the record
had begun to make evolutionary nonsense. On the one hand we had
modern types in levels earlier than those in which their supposed
ancestors were to be found; and on the other hand in some of
the very latest levels, primitive types which "belonged"
at the very beginning of the series. Thus Robert Braidwood had
There are one or two early finds
of pre-modern types that we need to catch up on. Like Piltdown,
there was another questionable find made long ago in England.
This was a skull and skeleton (badly broken), found at Galley
Hill in gravels of the second interglacial period. The bones
looked almost too modern to be so old, for the time is that between
the second and third great glaciations of the Ice Age (about
275,000 years ago). But in 1935 the bones of a similar premodern
skull appeared in gravels of the same geological age at Swanscombe
in England. Also, an equally early skull although rather less
modern in appearance, turned up in Steinheim, Germany. So it
seems pretty certain that a partially modern type of man was
already alive a long time ago. In fact these men were alive even
before the main Neanderthal group.
For the sake
of the reader who has a good general idea of accepted anthropological
views regarding fossil man, and to whom such terms as Neanderthal
Man are familiar in a way, but yet who has no exact mental picture
of the sequence in which these types are usually ordered, it
may be helpful to give a very brief summary of the picture as
seen until recently by anthropologists as a whole.
During the ice age, the alternating
cold and warm periods are believed to have witnessed the appearance
and disappearance of various types of fossil man. Some were cold
weather types, some warm weather types. This accounts for the
waves which came and went. These "waves" are
2. van Valen, Leigh, book review in Science,
vol.180, 1973, p.488.
3. Braidwood, Robert, Prehistoric Men, Natural History
Museum, Chicago, 1948, pp.25, 26..
of course an assumption
only. The actual remains known are very small, but it is supposed
that such finds as we have represent only a tiny proportion of
the population at any one period. Neanderthal Man lived in caves,
and in popular imagination came to represent the cave-man type,
slouching, apish, low browed, and not very intelligent; yet he
was a tool maker, and therefore truly human. It is a moot point
whether he became extinct with the coming of modern man (Cro-Magnon),
or whether he was absorbed into this new race that displaced
him. But long before the appearance of Neanderthal Man, other
more primitive types, such as the Far Eastern specimens represented
by Pithecanthropus erectus, and Sinanthropus, etc., had been
roaming about only to disappear with the passage of time. So
that although Neanderthal Man was primitive enough (especially
as reconstructed for museum display purposes) he was quite advanced
when compared with those who had preceded him by thousands of
years, and his skull was much larger.
This was a nice orderly arrangement.
Unfortunately, as stated earlier, fossil remains kept on cropping
up, which came from levels antedating those in which Neanderthal
Man had been customarily found, but which instead of being more
primitive (as required by the scheme), were actually quite modern
in appearance -- in fact, were virtually indistinguishable from
present European types. These were obviously displaced somehow,
and because they did not fit, they were laid aside "for
further consideration." But this trend persisted, and from
time to time further out-of-order specimens kept on turning up.
Yet the circumstances were always such that the finder, when
challenged, could not completely satisfy the experts that he
really had found the specimen in the levels he claimed. In some
cases, the find had occurred when the excavator was quite alone
and had no other witness.
At last, in the summer of 1947,
Mlle. Germaine Henri-Martin from a cave at Fontechevade near
the village of Montbrun, in France, brought to light a modern-type
fossil from a level well below that at which Neanderthal Man
was customarily found. (4) All the circumstances of this find were such as to
guarantee its acceptance by anthropologists everywhere. In fact,
the bones came from an undisturbed level sealed below a thick
layer of stalagmite that in turn underlay the Neanderthal level
in this area. There could never be any argument as to the validity
of this find. Modern man here preceded his one-time supposed
4. Eiseley, Loren, "The Antiquity of
Modern Man," Scientific American, July, 1948, pp.16-19.
Heberer has given a short and instructive summary of the present
state of our knowledge of Homo sapiens. (5) First, we know that modern types were contemporary
with Neanderthal Man; secondly, the two types sometimes appear
intermingled in a single deposit; and, finally, before the appearance
of Neanderthal Man there existed individuals, more like modern
man than the Neanderthals were themselves.
What this really boils down to
is that instead of a nice orderly series of fossil specimens,
passing from very primitive to quite modern types, we in fact
find the record supports no such pattern. Some of the lowest
levels present us with fossil remains that are to all intents
and purposes completely modern in appearance, while some of the
latest levels throw up specimens which nicely fit the preconceived
picture of what the earliest representatives of man are supposed
to have looked like. Naturally there had been some tendency to
disregard these misfits by questioning whether the levels at
which they were found had been correctly reported -- until Fontechevade.
At the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia
of Quantitative Biology in 1950, devoted to the subject of The
Origin and Evolution of Man, T. D. Stewart presented a paper
dealing with this problem, in which he quoted Henri Vallois,
a European authority on this latest find: (6)
The interest of the Fontechevade
discovery is that it clarifies the problem. In contrast to earlier
finds of human remains we have here in effect, a specimen which
is well dated and found in a stratigraphic context which allows
of no dispute: this is the first time that man certainly not
Neanderthal, although earlier than the Neanderthals has been
found in Europe under such conditions. Now this type . . . taking
all its characters together, aligns itself with the Swanscombe
form. . . .
To this extent the problem is clarified:
in and before the last interglacial period there existed in Europe
and probably elsewhere, men with less "primitive" cranial
features than those of the succeeding more advanced cultural
period -- the Neanderthal man of the Mousterian Age.
Not only do
we find this kind of reversal in which the modern precedes the
ancient by appearing far too early in the geological strata,
but we also find the opposite, in which very primitive specimens
are found in the very latest geological strata. Thus Rhodesian
Man, whose skull is illustrated in Fig. 6 (d), and who, as A.
5. Heberer, G., "Der Fluor-test und-seine
Bedeutung fur das Pra-sapiens problem," Forschungen und
Fortschritte, 26th Annual Report.
6. Vallois, Henri, quoted by T. D. Stewart, "The Problem
or the Earliest Claimed Representatives of Homo sapiens,"
in The Origin and Evolution of Man, being the Cold Spring
Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, vol.15, 1950, p.101..
rightly points out, is
more primitive than Neanderthal, (7) nevertheless comes from a cave deposit at Broken
Hill, in Northern Rhodesia, which is of unknown date, but which
according to Alfred Romer is "not improbably late Pleistocene,"
and therefore belongs to the most recent period. (8) For a similar reason the
South African man-like apes found by Dart and Broom, and termed
the Australopithecine, are by some of the best authorities rejected
as possible ancestors of man because they too come from geological
levels which are far too late in the Pleistocene. (9)
At the risk of being tiresomely
repetitive, it must be pointed out once more that dependence
upon morphology to establish the correct sequence for a series
of fossils had seemed the only reasonable course. The fact is
that modern man was continually being found in rocks older than
those in which his ancestors appeared. This made man older than
his forebears, which is ridiculous. But it is only ridiculous
if we insist that the more primitive forms are his forebears.
Evolutionary theory demands that this is so, and consequently
has to arrange the series according to morphology or physical
On the other hand, dependence on
morphological details can be equally misleading. One of the best
authorities in England, S. Zuckerman emphasizes the fact that
such characters may be the result of factors which have nothing
whatever to do with the geological age or the supposed relatedness
of the fossil to earlier animal forms. Zuckerman put it this
Some students claim, or rather
assume implicitly, that the phyletic relations of a series of
specimens can be clearly defined from an assessment of morphological
similarities and dissimilarities even when the fossil evidence
is both slight and non-continuous geologically. Others, who in
the light of modern genetic knowledge are surely on firmer ground,
point out that several genes or several gene patterns may have
identical phenotypic effects, and that when we deal with limited
or relatively limited fossil material, correspondence in single
morphological features, or in groups of characters, does not
necessarily imply genetic identity and phyletic relationship.
For the sake
of those readers to whom some of these terms will be unfamiliar,
Zuckerman is saying in effect that there is no justification
for arranging a series of specimens simply because they look
as though they might be so related, particularly when the geological
levels from which they came are of uncertain age. For, as he
7. Kroeber, A. L. Anthropology, revised
edition Harcourt, Brace, New York, 1948, p.99.
8. Romer, Alfred, Man and the Vertebrates, University
Chicago Press, Chicago, 1948, p.214.
9. Ibid., p.187.
10. Zuckerman, S., "Morphological Series of Hominid Remains,"
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol.81,
out, modern genetics
has shown that quite unrelated species may now and then give
rise to forms quite similar in structure, so that mere similarity
is no guarantee that the specimens have anything in common genetically.
Morphology can be totally misleading. We shall return to this
point later on.
The manner in which
this dependence upon physical appearance can distort the interpretations
of an able scholar is well illustrated in the case of Weidenreich's
handling of certain Far Eastern specimens. Speaking of this,
William Koppers from Vienna remarked how Weidenreich established
a chronological order of hominid remains beginning with the cranium
of Piltdown Man, which now that the fake jaw has been disposed
of, appears to be a genuine fossil of early geological age. He
then established a morphological series of hominid remains in
which he ends with Piltdown Man, because the cranium early though
it is, is quite modern in appearance. Koppers does not say how
the reconciliation is effected. (11)
In the earlier
days of anthropology, such problems never existed. For as far
as the public was aware, the finds did indeed fit into a fine
series. However this appearance had often been neatly secured
by the simple expedient of removing from the record any skulls
which did not suit the arrangement. Koppers may be quoted again
in this connection: (12)
It should interest the wider
public to know that in the same context, the distinguished anthropologist
Broom, frankly acknowledges that sapiens-like remains from early
times have shown a strange tendency to disappear. He quotes the
discoveries made at Ipswich in 1855 and at Abbeville in 1863
as special examples, and offers the following explanation: "During
the latter half of the nineteenth century every apparently early
human skull that was found, if it was not ape-like, was discredited,
no matter how good its credentials appeared to be."
Thus with the
passage of time, the situation has become more and more embarrassing
as fossils have continued to appear which can neither be hidden
from the public, nor introduced sensibly into the series. Today
each new find seems to create more problems than it solves. Evidently
a basic premise is at fault somewhere. This premise is that human
forms must be derived from animal forms and transitional forms
must therefore be provided. The time scale is rearranged accordingly
to agree with the assumed scale of evolutionary development.
Suppose we allow the levels in which the fossils are found to
speak for themselves in each instance, is there then any
11. Koppers, Wilhelm, Primitive Man and
His World Picture, Sheed and Ward, London, 1952, p.221.
12. Ibid., p.238.
other explanation for
this peculiar mixing of forms, this morphological contradiction
of evolutionary theory?
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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In view of all that has been said
thus far, it becomes evident that of the two systems of establishing
which fossils in any series are the earlier ones, the only valid
one is to fall back upon the supposed geological age at which
each fossil was found. While there may be some disagreement as
to the exact age in any given case, the general order is likely
to be reasonably well established. But in doing this we have
lost the nicely graded series entirely. How are we then to account
for those forms which look so primitive and which although found
in the wrong order, in many respects approach so closely to the
ideal "missing link" type?