Biology Magazine

Answers in Genesis Claim New Australopithecus Fossil is Human!

Posted on the 07 October 2013 by Reprieve @EvoAnth
Cleveland's reconstruction of Lucy (left) and BoneClone's reconstruction of Lucy (right)

Cleveland’s reconstruction of Lucy (left) and BoneClone’s older reconstruction (right)

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has recently re-reconstructed Lucy; a famous, more ape-like human ancestor from ~3.2 million years ago. This update is based on the 2010 discovery of another Australopithecus afarensis which fills in many of the gaps in Lucy’s 43% skeleton. The other Au. afarensis (nicknamed “Big Man”, as in since it’s male and taller than Lucy) revealed their species had a more human-like barrel shaped ribcage and longer legs – amongst other things – than previously thought.

This is bad news for the Liverpool World Museum, where I volunteer, which had recently obtained a now-out-of-date reconstruction of Lucy. Darn.

It’s worse news for Answers in Genesis, whose main argument against Lucy being a human ancestor is that she was just another quadrupedal ape. Not only does Big Man further confirm their species walked upright like humans, but also refutes many of AiG’s arguments for why Lucy walked on all fours, like a chimp. In particular BM’s hip shows Au. afarensis had strong, functioning walking muscles (a fact AiG has previously disputed) and a human-like scapula (which they’ve also disputed).

How does AiG respond to these revelations? By doing the only sane thing left: claiming BM was a human! In their new article, “Lucy Makeover Shouts a Dangerously Deceptive Message About Our Supposed Ancestors” they write (bold added by me)

Of course, the possibility that the headless “Big Man” was neither ape nor ancestral hominid but rather a human (like perhaps Homo erectus) never enters the minds of evolutionary paleoanthropologists.

The dramatic differences between “Big Man” and “Lucy” are presumably written off to sexual dimorphism or their supposed 0.4 million year age discrepancy rather than to the fact that “Big Man” might not even be an afarensis or any kind of ape at all.

It looks like Dr Mitchell hasn’t read the scientific paper reporting Big Man’s discovery. After all, she’s talking about what she ‘presumes‘ the explanation for the differences between Lucy and BM is; rather than the actual explanation offered by BM’s discoverers. She also doesn’t cite the paper containing the relevant details, at all. The work at AiG is clearly held to a high scholarly standard

And what is the real explanation I hear you ask? Lucy and BM just aren’t that different. Most of the “differences” present in BM’s skeleton are bits that aren’t preserved in Lucy, so can’t be said to be different to her. As this colourful table I’ve prepared explains, when you compare bits present in Lucy and BM you find that they’re actually very, very similar.

Incomplete list of anatomical traits of chimps, BM, Lucy and humans. Taken from the supplementary information of An early Australopithecus afarensis postcranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia

Incomplete list of anatomical traits of chimps, BM, Lucy and humans. Taken from the supplementary information of “An early Australopithecus afarensis postcranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia

In fact, there are only really 2 major differences between BM and other Au. afarensis specimens. Firstly, his leg is longer than Lucy’s, but then the fact a species varies in height is hardly shocking. Secondly, his shoulder blade is more human-like than Sema’s (another Au. afarensis). However Sema is a 3 year old child, and we know that the scapula changes as an individual matures. Thus the fact BM’s adult scapula is different isn’t really a “dramatic difference” either.

Nonetheless, Dr Mitchell is determined to play up how different Big Man is from other Australopiths, so brings up the scapula difference (conveniently forgetting to mention the age of Selam). Bold added by me, again.

Despite the 2012 report of another afarensis fossil (named “Selam”) with a shoulder blade adapted for arboreal life, the more human-like “Big Man” offers more “scope for imagination” to the evolutionary story and to the Cleveland museum’s new fleshed-out, slim-and-trim Lucy.

Now here is where AiG really irritates me. You see that quote I’ve highlighted in bold. Now based on it’s context you might be led to think that it comes from someone related to Big Man’s discovery or his reconstruction. This might lead you to think that there’s some imagination was used and the reconstruction isn’t scientifically accurate (something AiG have said about other reconstructions).

In fact, that quote comes from an unrelated novel published in 1908! They’re attempting to tar the validity of the reconstruction by poisoning the well with quotes from unrelated children’s books published nearly 100 years before the discovery of Big Man!

That is deplorable, and really shows how desperate they are. Having gone on record as saying how Lucy is a quadrupedal ape; an additional skeleton is clearly showing that her species is a bipedal member of the human lineage. They’ve backed themselves into a corner where they have to admit Australopithecus afarensis is one of those “transitional forms” they claim doesn’t existBut they can’t, so they have to resort to poisoning the well with irrelevant quotes and ignoring the paper which published the relevant facts.

Yet again Answers in Genesis have shown what a bastion of science they really are.

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