Author: Jim Foley (jim.foley@FtCollinsCO.ncr.com) Title: Fossil Hominids Update: Jan. 10,
Author: Jim Foley (jim.foley@FtCollinsCO.ncr.com)
Title: Fossil Hominids
Update: Jan. 10, 1995
The word "hominid" refers to members of the family of man,
Hominidae, which consists of all species on our side of the last
common ancestor of humans and living apes. Hominids are included
in the superfamily of all apes, the Hominoidae, whose members are
called hominoids. Although the number of fossil hominids is not
very large, and the evidence is often fragmentary, it is complete
enough to give a good picture of the evolutionary history of
The time of the split between humans and living apes used to be
thought to have occurred 15 to 20 million years ago, or even up to
30 or 40 million years ago. Some apes occurring within that time
period, such as Ramapithecus, used to be considered as hominids,
and possible ancestors of humans. Later fossil finds indicated
that Ramapithecus was more closely related to the orang-utan, and
new biochemical evidence indicated that the last common ancestor of
hominids and apes occurred between 5 and 10 million years ago, and
probably in the lower end of that range (Lewin, 1987).
Ramapithecus therefore is no longer considered a hominid.
The species here are listed roughly in order of appearance in the
fossil record, except that the robust australopithecines are kept
together. Each name consists of a genus name (Australopithecus or
Homo) which is always capitalized, and a species name (e.g.
africanus, erectus) which is always in lower case. Within the
text, genus names are often omitted for brevity.
This species is a recent discovery, announced in September 1994
(White et al.1994; Wood, 1994). It is the oldest known hominid,
dated at 4.4 million years. Most remains are skull fragments.
Indirect evidence suggests that it was possibly bipedal, and that
some individuals were about 122 cm (4'0") tall. The teeth have
both apelike and human characteristics, but one baby tooth is very
primitive, resembling a chimpanzee tooth more than other known
hominid tooth. Other fossils found with ramidus indicate that it
may have been a forest dweller. This may cause modification of
current theories about why hominids became bipedal, which often
link bipedalism with a move to a savannah environment.
Afarensis existed between 3.9 and 2.8 million years ago. Afarensis
had an apelike face with a low forehead, a bony ridge over the
eyes, a flat nose, and no chin. They had protuding jaws with large
back teeth. Cranial capacity varied from about 375 to 500 cc.
The skull is similar to that of a chimpanzee, except for the more
manlike teeth and larger relative brain size. However their pelvis
and leg bones far more closely resemble those of modern man, and
leave no doubt that they were bipedal (although adapted to walking
rather than running (Leakey, 1994)). Their bones show that they
were physically very strong. Females were substantially smaller
than males, a condition known as sexual dimorphism. Height varied
between about 107 cm (3'6") and 152 cm (5'0"). The finger and toe
bones are curved and proportionally longer than in humans (Johanson
and Edey, 1981). Some scientists consider this evidence that
afarensis was still partially adapted to climbing in trees, other
consider it evolutionary baggage.
Australopithecus africanus existed between 3 and 2 million years
ago. It is similar to afarensis, but body size was slightly
greater. Brain size may also have been slightly larger, ranging
between 430 and 550 cc. This is consistently larger than ape
brains (despite a smaller body size), but still not advanced in the
areas necessary for speech. The back teeth were a little bigger
than in afarensis, the front teeth a little smaller.
Australopithecus afarensis and africanus (and probably ramidus) are
known as gracile australopithecines, because of their relatively
lighter build, especially in the skull and teeth.
This species is known from one major specimen, the Black Skull
discovered by Alan Walker, and a couple of other lower jaw
specimens which may belong to the same species. The Black Skull is
dated at 2.5 million years. It may be an ancestor of robustus and
boisei, but it has a baffling mixture of primitive and advanced
traits. Parts of the skurticularly the hind portions, are very
primitive, most resembling afarensis. Other characteristics, like
the massiveness of the face, jaws and single tooth found, and the
largest sagittal crest in any known hominid, are more reminiscent
of boisei (Leakey and Lewin, 1992). (A sagittal crest is a bony
ridge on top of the skull to which chewing muscles attach)
Robustus had a body similar to that of africanus, but a larger and
more robust skull and teeth. It existed between 2 and 1.4 million
years ago. The massive face is flat or dished, with no forehead
and large brow ridges. It has relatively small front teeth, but
massive grinding teeth in a large lower jaw. Most specimens have
sagittal crests. Its diet would have been mostly coarse, tough
food that needed a lot of chewing. The average cranial capacity is
about 530 cc. Bones excavated with robustus skeletons indicate
that they may have been used as digging tools.
Australopithecus boisei (was Zinjanthropus boisei)
Boisei existed between 2 and 1.1 million years ago. It was similar
to robustus, but the face and cheek teeth were even more massive,
some molars being up to 2cm across. A few experts consider boisei
and robustus to be variants of the same species.
Australopithecus aethiopicus, robustus and boisei are known as
robust australopithecines, because of their more powerful builds.
Habilis, "handy man", was so called because of evidence of tools
found with him. Habilis existed between 2.5 and 1.5 million years
ago. It is very similar to australopithecines in many ways. The
face is still primitive, but it projects less, the back teeth are
smaller, and the average brain size, at 650 cc, is considerably
larger than in australopithecines. Brain size varies between 500
and 800 cc, overlapping the australopithecines at the low end and
Homo erectus at the high end. The brain shape is also more human-
like. The bulge of Broca's area, essential for speech, is visible
in habilis brain casts, indicates it was probably capable of
rudimentary speech. Habilis is thought to have been about 127 cm
(5'0") tall, and about 45 kg (100 lb) in weight.
Habilis has been a controversial species. Some scientists have not
accepted it, believing that all habilis specimens should be
assigned to either the australopithecines or Homo erectus. Others
believe that habilis combines specimens from two different Homo
Erectus existed between 1.8 million and 300,000 years ago.
Like habilis, the face has protruding jaws with large molars, no
chin, thick brow ridges, and a long low skull, with a brain size
varying between about 775 to 1225 cc. Early erectus specimens
average about 900 cc, while late ones have an average of about 1100
cc (Leakey, 1994). Some Asian erectus skulls have a sagittal
crest. The skeleton is more robust than those of modern humans,
implying great strength. Study of the Turkana Boy skeleton
indicates that erectus may have been more efficient at walking than
modern man, whose skeleton has had to adapt to allow for the birth
of larger-brained infants. Homo habilis and all the
australopithecines are found only in Africa, but erectus was wide-
ranging, and is found through Africa and Asia (and was probably in
Europe, but no unambiguous skeletal remains are known from there).
Evidence from the Peking Man site in China indicates that erectus
used fire, and their stone tools are more sophisticated than those
Homo sapiens (archaic)
Archaic forms of Homo sapiens first appear about 500,000 years ago.
The brain size is larger than erectus and smaller than modern
humans, averaging about 1200 cc. The skeleton and teeth are less
robust than erectus, but more robust than modern humans. There is
no clear dividing line between late erectus and archaic sapiens,
and many fossils between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago are
difficult to classify as one or the other.
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
Neandertal man existed between 125,000 and 35,000 years ago. The
average brain size is slightly larger than that of modern man,
about 1450 cc, but this is probably correlated with their greater
bulk. The brain case however is longer and lower than that of
modern man. Like erectus, they had a protruding jaw and receding
forehead and chin. The midfacial area also protrudes, a feature
that is not found in erectus or sapiens and may be an adaptation to
cold. There are other minor anatomical differences from modern
humans. Neandertal bones are thick and heavy, and show signs of
powerful muscle attachments. Neandertals would have been
extraordinarily strong by modern standards, and their skeletons
show that they endured brutally hard lives. They were apparently
the first humans to live in very cold climates, and their body
proportions were similar to that of modern people who live in cold
climates. A large number of tools and weapons have been found,
more sophisticated than those of Homo erectus. Neandertals are the
first people known to have buried their dead, with the oldest known
burial site being about 100,000 years old. Neandertals are found
throughout Europe and the Middle East. Western European
Neandertals usually have a more robust form, and are sometimes
called "classic Neandertals". Neandertals found elsewhere tend to
be less excessively robust. (Trinkaus and Shipman, 1992)
Homo sapiens sapiens (modern)
Modern forms of Homo sapiens first appear about 100,000 years ago.
Modern humans have an average brain size of about 1350 cc. About
35,000 years ago, with the appearance of the Cro-Magnon culture,
tool kits started becoming markedly more sophisticated, using a
wider variety of raw materials such as bone and antler, and
containing new implements for making clothing, engraving and
sculpting. Fine artwork, in the form of decorated tools, beads,
ivory carvings of humans and animals, clay figurines, musical
instruments, and spectacular cave paintings appeared over the next
20,000 years. (Leakey, 1994)
Even within the last 100,000 years, the long-term trends towards
smaller molars and decreased robustness can be discerned. The
face, jaw and teeth of Mesolithic humans (about 10,000 years ago)
are about 10% more robust than ours. Upper Paleolithic humans
(about 30,000 years ago) are about 20 to 30% more robust than the
modern condition in Europe and Asia. These are considered modern
humans, although they are sometimes termed "primitive".
Interestingly, some modern humans (aboriginal Australians) have
tooth sizes more typical of archaic sapiens. The smallest tooth
sizes are found in those areas where food-processing techniques
have been used for the longest time. This is a good example of
natural selection which has occurred within the last 10,000 years
This diagram shows roughly the times during which each hominid
species lived. Ages are in millions of years, with each character
position representing 100,000 years. This resolution is a little
coarse to accurately represent the most modern species.
5.0 4.0 3.0 2.0 1.0 0.0
| | | | | |
| | |robustus ******* | |
| | | boisei **********| |
| | aethiopicus * | | |
| | | | | |
ramidus * | | | | |
afarensis ************ | | |
| africanus *********** | |
| | | | | |
| | habilis *********** | |
| | | erectus **************** |
| | | archaic sapiens *****|
| | | | Neandertals *|
| | | | modern sapiens *
| | | | | |
PROMINENT HOMINID FOSSILS
This list includes fossils that are important for either their
scientific or historic interest, or because they are often
mentioned by creationists. One sometimes reads that all hominid
fossils could fit in a coffin, or on a table, or a billiard table.
That is a misleading image, as there are now over a thousand
hominid fossils. They are however mostly fragmentary, often
consisting of a single bone or isolated teeth. Complete skulls and
skeletons are very rare.
The list is sorted by species, going from older to more recent
species. Within each species, finds are sorted by the order of
Each entry will consist of a specimen number if known, any
nicknames in quotes (or the site name, if many fossils were found
in one place), and a species name. The species name will be
followed by a '?' if suspect, or missing if unknown. If the fossil
was originally placed in a different species, that name will also
Abbreviations: KNM-ER Kenya National Museum, East Rudolf
KNM-WT Kenya National Museum, West Turkana
TM Transvaal Museum
OH Olduvai Hominid
LH Laetoli Hominid
AL Afar Locality
"ARA-VP, Sites 1, 6 & 7", Australopithecus ramidus.
Discovered by a team led by Tim White, Bernard Asfaw and Gen Suwa
(1994) in 1992 and 1993 at Aramis in Ethiopa. Estimated age is 4.4
million years. The find consist of fossils from 17 individuals.
Most remains are teeth, but there is also a partial lower jaw of a
child, a partial cranium base, and arm bone fragments from 2
AL-128-1, Australopithecus afarensis.
Discovered by Donald Johanson in 1973 at Hadar in Ethiopia.
Estimated age is about 3.9 million years. This find consisted of
portions of both legs, including a complete knee joint which is
almost a miniature of a human knee, but apparently belongs to an
adult (Johanson and Edey, 1981). It provides the oldest known
evidence for hominid bipedalism.
AL-288-1, "Lucy", Australopithecus afarensis.
Discovered by Donald Johanson in 1974 at Hadar in Ethiopia.
Estimated age is about 3.2 million years. Lucy was an adult female
of about 25 years. About 40% of her skeleton was found, and her
pelvis, femur (the upper leg bone) and tibia (the larger of the two
lower leg bones) show her to have been bipedal. She was about 107
cm (3'6") tall (small for her species) and about 28 kg (62 lbs) in
AL-333 Site, "The First Family", Australopithecus afarensis?
Discovered in 1975 by Donald Johanson's team at Hadar in Ethiopia.
Estimated age is about 3.5 million years. This find consisted of
remains of at least 13 hominid individuals, of all ages. The size
of these specimens varies considerably. Scientists debate whether
the specimens belong to one species, two or even three. Johanson
believes they belong to a single species in which males were
considerably larger than females. Others believe that the larger
specimens belong to a primitive species of Homo.
"Laetoli footprints", Australopithecus afarensis?
Discovered in 1976 at Laetoli in Tanzania. Estimated age is 3.7
million years. The trail consists of the fossilized footprints of
two or three bipedal hominids. Their size and stride length
indicate that they were about 140 cm (4'8") and 120 cm (4'0") tall.
Apart from that, the footprints appear identical to the tracks of
"Taung baby", Australopithecus africanus
Discovered by Raymond Dart in 1924 at Taung in South Africa. The
find consisted of a full face, teeth and jaws, and an endocranial
cast of the brain. It is probably about 2 million years old, but
it and most other South African fossils are found in cave deposits
that are difficult to date. The teeth of this skull showed it to
be from an infant about 5 or 6 years old (it is now believed that
australopithecines mature faster than humans, and that the Taung
child was about 3). The large rounded brain, canine teeth which
were small and not apelike, and the position of the foramen magnum
(*) convinced Dart that this was a bipedal human ancestor, which he
named Australopithecus africanus (African southern ape). Although
the discovery became famous, Dart's interpretation was rejected by
the scientific community until an adult specimen of the same
species was discovered in 1936.
(*) Anatomical digression: the foramen magnum is the hole in the
skull through which the spinal cord passes. In apes, it is towards
the back of the skull, because of their quadrupedal posture. In
humans it is at the bottom of the skull because our head is
balanced on top of a vertical column. The Taung baby, and all the
other hominids discussed here (with the possible exception of A.
ramidus) have a foramen magnum positioned like that of humans.
Australopithecus africanus (was Plesianthropus transvaalensis)
Discovered by Robert Broom in 1936 at Sterkfontein in South Africa.
Sts 5, "Mrs Ples", Australopithecus africanus
Discovered by Robert Broom in 1947 at Sterkfontein in South Africa.
It consisted of an almost complete, very well preserved skull,
minus the lower jaw. The brain size is about 485 cc.
Sts 14, Australopithecus africanus
Discovered by Robert Broom and J.T. Robinson in 1947 at
Sterkfontein. Estimated age is about 2.5 million years. This find
consisted of a nearly complete vertebral column, pelvis, some rib
fragments, and part of a femur of a very small adult female. The
pelvis is far more human than apelike, and is strong evidence that
africanus was bipedal. (Brace et al.1979)
KNM-WT 17000, "The Black Skull", Australopithecus aethiopicus
Discovered by John Walker in 1985 at West Turkana in Kenya.
Estimated age is 2.6 million years. This find is a skull with most
of the braincase and face intact. The brain size is very small for
a hominid, about 410 cc, and the skull has a puzzling mixture of
primitive and advanced features. (Leakey and Lewin, 1992)
TM 1517, Australopithecus robustus (was Paranthropus robustus)
Discovered by Robert Broom in 1938 at Kromdraai in South Africa
(Broom, 1938). It consisted of skull fragments, including five
teeth. This was the first specimen of robustus.
OH 5, "Zinjanthropus", "Nutcracker man", Australopithecus boisei
Discovered by Mary Leakey in 1959 at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania
(Leakey, 1959). Estimated age is 1.8 million years. The brain
size is about 530 cc. This was the first specimen of this species.
Louis Leakey briefly considered this a human ancestor, but the
claim was dropped when Homo habilis was found soon afterwards.
KNM-ER 732, Australopithecus boisei?
Discovered by Richard Leakey in 1972 near Lake Turkana. The skull
is similar to that of OH 5, but has differences, including the lack
of a sagittal crest. Most experts believe this is a case of sexual
dimorphism, with the female being smaller than the male.
Discovered by the Leakeys in the early 1960s at Olduvai Gorge in
Tanzania. A number of fragmentary specimens were found (Leakey et
OH 7 (Johnny's Child), found by Jonathon Leakey in 1960, consisted
of a mandible and two cranial fragments. Estimated age is 1.9
OH 13 (Cindy), found in 1963, consisted of a lower jaw and teeth,
bits of an upper jaw and a bit of skull.
OH 16 (George), found in 1963, consisted of teeth and some very
small skull fragments (George was unfortunately trampled by a herd
of Masai cattle before he could be excavated, and much of his skull
was lost). Estimated age is 1.7 million years.
Twiggy consisted of a crushed cranium and seven teeth.
KNM-ER 1470, Homo habilis
Discovered by Bernard Ngeneo in 1972 at Koobi Fora in Kenya
(Leakey, 1959). Estimated age is 2 million years. This is the most
complete habilis skull known. Its brain size was 775 cc, large for
habilis. It was originally dated at nearly 3 million years old, a
figure that caused much confusion as at the time it was older than
any known australopithecines, from whom habilis had supposedly
descended. A lively debate over the dating of 1470 ensued (Lewin,
1987; Johanson and Edey, 1981). The skull is surprisingly modern
in some respects, much less robust than any australopithecine
skull, and also without the robustness and brow ridges typical of
Discovered by Kamoya Kimeu in 1973 at Koobi Fora in Kenya.
This specimen is similar to 1470, but is much smaller, with a brain
size of 510 cc. Estimated age is 1.8-1.9 million years. Some
scientists believe this a case of sexual dimorphism, others believe
that the brain architecture is different and that 1813 is another
species of Homo, and others believe it is an australopithecine.
Like the next skull, 1805, this one is in the "Suspense Account"
(That makes two out of only 8 hominid skulls discovered in this
region). It may be a new species of hominid. (Willis, 1989)
KNM-ER 1805, "the Mystery Skull"
Discovered by P. Abell at Koobi Fora in Kenya. Estimated age is
1.5 million years. This find consisted of an almost complete
cranium and lower jaw containing many teeth. Its cranial capacity
is about 600 cc. Some skull features, such as the sagittal crest,
are typical of A. boisei, but the teeth are too small for that
species. (Willis, 1989; Day, 1986)
OH 62, "Dik-dik hominid", Homo habilis?
Discovered by Tim White in 1986 at Olduvai in Tanzania. Estimated
age is 1.85 million years. The find consisted of portions of
skull, arm, leg bones and teeth. The estimated height is very
small, maybe about 105 cm (3'5)", and the arms are very long in
proportion to the legs. (Johanson and Shreeve, 1989)
Trinil 2, "Java man", Homo erectus (was Pithecanthropus erectus)
Discovered by Eugene Dubois in 1893 near Trinil in Java. Estimated
age is 500,000 years. This find consisted of a flat, very thick
skull cap, a few teeth, and a thigh bone found in close proximity
(Theunissen, 1989). The estimated brain size is about 900 cc.
Trinkaus and Shipman (1992) state that most scientists now believe
the femur is that of a modern human, but few of the other
references mention this.
"Heidelberg Man", Homo erectus? (was Homo heidelbergensis)
Discovered by gravel pit workers in 1907 in Germany. Estimated age
is about 400,000 years. This find consisted of a complete lower
mandible. The teeth are very similar to those of Neandertals, but
the jaw is more robust. It is therefore identified as erectus on
the basis of its age, but could be an archaic sapiens.
"Peking Man Site", Homo erectus (was Sinanthropus pekinensis)
Discovered by W. C. Pei at in 1929 at Zhoukoudian, near Beijing, in
China. This site yielded many bones from as many as 40
individuals. The original fossils disappeared in 1941 while being
shipped to the United States for safety during World War II, but
excellent casts and descriptions remain. Since the war, other
erectus fossils have been found at this site and others in China.
KNM-WT 15000, "Turkana Boy", Homo erectus
Discovered by Kamoya Kimeu in 1984 at Lake Turkana in Kenya. This
is an almost complete skeleton of a 9 year old boy. (His age was
originally estimated at 11 or 12 years old, but early erectus
humans are now thought to have grown faster than modern humans
(Leakey, 1994)) It is the most complete known specimen of erectus,
and also one of the oldest, at 1.6 million years. At about 168 cm
(5'6"), the boy was surprisingly tall, indicating that erectus may
have been as tall as modern man. Except for the skull, the
skeleton differs only slightly from that of modern boys. (Leakey
and Lewin, 1992)
KNM-ER 3733, Homo erectus.
Discovered by B. Ngeneo in 1975 at Koobi Fora in Kenya. Estimated
age is 1.5 million years. This superb find consisted of most of a
skull, except for a missing lower jaw. The brain size, at 800 cc,
is at the low end of erectus variation.
Petralona 1, Homo sapiens (archaic)
Discovered by villagers at Petrolona in Greece in 1960. Estimated
age is 250,000-500,000 years. This could also be considered as
Homo erectus. The brain size is 1220 cc, high for erectus but low
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
Discovered by Johann Fuhlrott in 1856 in the Neander valley in
Germany. The find consisted of a skull, thigh bones, part of a
pelvis, some ribs, and some arm and shoulder bones. The lower left
arm had been broken in life, and the bones of the left arm were
smaller than those of the right. Fuhlrott recognized it as
primitive human, but the German establishment headed by Rudolf
Virchow rejected this view, incorrectly claiming that it was a
pathological modern human.
(There were actually two earlier Neandertal finds. A partial
cranium of a 2.5 year old child found in 1829 in Belgium was not
recognized until 1936. An adult skull found on Gibraltar in 1848
gathered dust in a museum until it was recognized as Neandertal in
"Spy 1 and 2", Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
Discovered by Marcel de Puydt and Max Lohest in 1886 at Spy
(pronounced Spee) d'Orneau in Belgium. Estimated age is about
60,000 years. This find consisted of two almost complete
skeletons. The excellent descriptions of the skeletons established
that they were very old, and largely discredited the idea that the
Neandertal physique was a pathological condition. They also
erroneously concluded that Neandertal Man walked with bent knees.
"Krapina Site", Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
Discovered by Dragutin Gorjanovic-Kramberger in 1899 near Krapina
in Croatia. This site yielded significant remains from two to
three dozen individuals, and teeth and jaw fragments from dozens
more. When Gorjanovic published on his finds in 1906, it confirmed
for once and for all that Neandertals were not pathological modern
"Old Man", Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
Discovered by Amedee and Jean Bouyssonie in 1908 near La-Chapelle-
aux-Saints in France. This nearly complete skeleton was
reconstructed by Marcellin Boule, who wrote a definitive and highly
influential paper on it which managed to be totally wrong in many
of its conclusions. It exaggerated the ape-like characteristics of
the fossil, popularizing the stereotype, which would last for
decades, of a stooping ape-man shuffling along on bent knees. This
specimen was between about 30 and 40 when he died, but had a healed
broken rib, severe arthritis of the hip, lower neck, back and
shoulders, and had lost most of his molar teeth. The fact that he
survived as long as he did indicates that Neandertals must have had
a complex social structure.
"Shanidar Site", Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
Ralph Solecki discovered 9 Neandertal skeletons between 1953 and
1960 at the Shanidar cave in Iraq. They are though to be about
60,000 to 70,000 years old. One of them, Shanidar 4, had
apparently been buried with offerings of flowers. Solecki in 1971
wrote a book called "Shanidar, the First Flower People", reversing
the earlier stereotypes of semi-human brutes. Another skeleton,
Shanidar 1, was partially blind, one-armed and crippled. His
survival also is evidence of a complex social structure.
"Cro-Magnon Site", Homo sapiens (modern)
Discovered by workmen in 1868 at Cro-Magnon in France. Estimated
age 28,000 years. The site yielded skeletons of about half a dozen
individuals, along with stone tools, carved reindeer antlers, ivory
pendants, and shells. The Cro-Magnons lived in Europe between
35,000 and 10,000 years ago. They are almost identical to modern
man, being tall and muscular and slightly more robust than most
modern humans. They were skilled hunters, toolmakers and artists
famous for the cave art at places such as Lascaux.
There are a number of clear trends (which were neither continuous
nor uniform) from early australopithecines to recent humans:
increasing brain size, increasing body size, increasing use of and
sophistication in tools, decreasing tooth size, decreasing skeletal
robustness. There are no clear dividing lines between some of the
later gracile australopithecines and some of the early Homo,
between Homo habilis and Homo erectus, between erectus and archaic
sapiens, or archaic sapiens and modern sapiens.
Despite this, there is no consensus on what our family tree is.
Everyone accepts that the robust australopithecines (aethiopicus,
robustus and boisei) are not ancestral to us, being a side branch
that left no descendants. Whether H. habilis is descended from A.
afarensis, africanus, both of them, or neither of them, is still a
matter of debate. It is possible that none of the known
australopithecines is our ancestor. The discovery of ramidus is so
recent that it is hard to say what effect it will have on current
theories. It is generally accepted that Homo erectus is descended
from Homo habilis, but the relationship between erectus, sapiens
and the Neandertals is still unclear. Neandertal affinities can be
detected in some specimens of both archaic and modern sapiens.
Brain sizes have been given in many cases. It should be noted that
brain size can vary widely in a species (between 1000 and 2000 cc
for modern humans), and is not usually correlated with
intelligence. Between species, however, average brain size, when
a correction for body size is applied, is a good indicator of
relative intelligence. Chimps, for example, have a brain size
between 300 and 400 cc, and weigh between 45 and 80 kg (100 and 175
lbs). Gracile australopithecines had an average brain size of
about 450 cc and an upper body weight of about 45 kg (100 lbs), we
we can be fairly confident that they were smarter than chimps.
Gould (1978) contains a graph which plots brain vs. body size for
many apes and hominids, showing that australopithecines and are
intermediate between humans and apes in relative brain size.
CREATIONIST ARGUMENTS ABOUT HOMINID FOSSILS
The usual creationist response to these fossils is to claim that
there are no intermediates; each one is either a human or an ape.
It doesn't matter that some of the "humans" have a brain size of
550 cc, heavy brow ridges, no chin, and teeth larger than modern
ones set in a projecting jaw, or that some "apes" were bipedal, had
teeth with many human characteristics, and brains larger than those
of similar sized apes. The differences between some
Australopithecine and some Homo are smaller than those between the
former and apes, or between the latter and modern man, and there
are some skulls which cannot be reliably assigned to either genus.
Like scientists, creationists find it hard to decide where the
dividing line between apes and humans should be. No matter where
it is placed, however, the humans just above the line and the apes
just below it are going to be more similar to one another than they
will be to other humans or other apes. Although scientists put
them in genus Homo, most creationists do not accept the smaller-
brained habilis specimens as human (but see below). Erectus is
more doubtful. Some creationists claim that at least some erectus
finds are apes, but others claim they may be degenerate humans: "It
may well be that Homo erectus was a true man, but somwhat
degenerate in size and culture, possibly because of inbreeding,
poor diet and a hostile environment" (Morris, 1974). There is no
explanation about why these adverse conditions would cause erectus
to be so powerful, and in fact erectus may have been of average
human size (see the entry on the Turkana boy fossil). It is also
a puzzle why all human skulls over 500,000 years old are erectus,
and why, given the number of modern people who face a poor diet and
a hostile environment, no erectus specimens are found nowadays.
On the other hand, Taylor (1992) gives the following definition:
"Homo erectus: an assemblage of bones of a large type of extinct
ape; this classification includes "Peking Man" and "Java Man".
The brain size of erectus skulls can exceed 1200 cc, about 90% of
the average size for a modern human. Despite the primitive
features, they are unmistakably human, and it is impossible to call
The skull 1470 was discovered in 1972, and publicized as both
amazingly human-like, and extremely old, at nearly 3 million years.
Creationists eagerly seized on the statement of Richard Leakey, its
discoverer, that 1470 "wipes out everything we have been taught
about human evolution, and I have nothing to offer in its place".
Creationists sometimes give the impression that it is a modern
human skull. But despite its human features, it has a brain size
of about 775 cc. Gish (1984) is honest enough to point out its
small size, but states that its age and sex is unknown, presumably
seeking to imply that it might belong to a child. That is not
probable, as can be seen from comparative photos (Weaver, 1985).
1470's face is as large as that of a modern Cro-Magnon skull,
despite a much smaller brain size, and the cranium has a markedly
different shape. It is interesting to note that, as a debating
tactic to discredit other hominid fossils, creationists often
accept 1470 as human, even though many of them reject larger-
brained erectus specimens as apes. But if 1470 is human, one could
then make a strong case that the very similar but smaller skull
1813 is also human (a photographic comparison is in Weaver (1985)).
Creationists, however, are unlikely to find the idea of a human
with a brain size of 510 cc very appealing.
No creationist who discusses this subject avoids mentioning
Piltdown Man or Nebraska Man. Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus dawsoni)
was discovered in England in 1912, and a second specimen in 1915.
It consisted of a surprisingly modern-looking skull associated with
a surprisingly ape-like lower jaw. In 1953 it was discovered to be
a hoax, consisting of a modern human skull and an orang-utan jaw.
Well before then, Piltdown had become a puzzling anomaly when
compared to all other hominid jaws, and the scientific community
was relieved to be able to forget about it.
The paleontological community was horribly embarrassed by the
uncovering of Piltdown, and justifiably so. A number of scientists
had made what were in retrospect extremely foolish statements about
the skull, elaborating on its "unmistakably apelike
characteristics." Piltdown's acceptance was probably helped by the
fact that it conformed to prejudices about what a primitive human
skull would look like. In fact a number of scientists did believe
that the cranium and jaw were not from the same creature, but no-
one had suspected forgery.
Nebraska Man (Hesperopithecus haroldcookii) was named from two
human-like teeth found in 1922. As creationists tell it,
evolutionists used one tooth to build an entire species of
primitive man, complete with illustrations of him and his family,
before further excavations revealed the tooth to belong to a pig.
The other side of this story is told by Gould (1991). The finders,
and the scientific community, never identified the tooth as
belonging to a human ancestor, only to a higher primate. The
imaginative drawing was the work of an illustrator collaborating
with an English scientist, and was done for the Illustrated London
News, not for a scientific publication. Identifying the tooth as
belonging to a higher primate was not as foolish as it sounds; pig
cheek teeth are extremely similar to those of humans, and the
specimen was worn, making identification even harder. Creationists
also claim that Nebraska Man was used as proof of evolution during
the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, but this claim is apparently
apocryphal, since no scientific evidence was presented at the
Nebraska Man should not be considered an embarrassment. The
scientists involved were mistaken, but not incompetent or
dishonest. The whole episode was actually an excellent example of
how the scientific process should work. Given a problematic
identification, scientists went out, found further data which
falsified their earlier ideas, and promptly abandoned them. This
is a marked contrast to the creationist approach.
Many creationists, including Duane Gish (1984), have claimed that
Java Man, discovered by Eugene Dubois in 1893, was "bad science".
Gish says that Dubois found two human skulls at "nearby" Wadjak at
the same level and had kept them secret, that Dubois later decided
Java Man was a giant gibbon, and that the bones do not come from
the same individual. Most people would find Gish's meaning of
"nearby" surprising: the Wadjak skulls were found 100 miles of
mountainous countryside away from Java Man. Similarly for "at the
same level": the Wadjak skulls were found in cave deposits in the
mountains, while Java Man was found in river deposits in a flood
plain (Fezer, 1993). Dubois had reported the Wadjak skulls in
three separate publication around 1890, but, recognizing that they
were modern, devoted all his attention to Java Man once it was
found. Based on his own theories about how brains had evolved and
wishful thinking, Dubois did claim that Java Man had the
proportions of a giant gibbon, but never said that it was one, and
never stopped believing that he had found an ancestor of modern man
(Theunissen, 1989; Gould, 1993). It may be true that the femur and
skull cap do not belong together, but the skull cap definitely does
not belong to any ape. It is far too large, and is clearly related
to the many other Homo erectus fossils that have been found, which
creationists often recognize as human.
Peking Man is another favorite target. Creationists claim that the
Peking Man fossils are the remains of apes or monkeys eaten by real
humans, that the original fossils may have been disposed of to
conceal the evidence of fraud, that only models of the fossils
remain, and they are distorted to fit evolutionist preconceptions
(Gish, 1984). Like Java Man, the skull fragments are clearly those
of Homo erectus, and there is no evidence that they were the
victims of cannibalism. The idea that there was a conspiracy to
distort the evidence and then dispose of the skulls would be a far-
fetched fantasy even if there were no evidence contradicting it.
However since the war, further discoveries have been made, at the
original site and other sites in China, that are similar to the
older fossils. This refutes the charge that evolutionists doctored
Peking Man to create evidence for evolution. Finally, the claim
that only imaginative models remain is false; there are excellent
casts, photos, and many descriptive papers were written on the
Some creationists point to Olduvai Gorge, where australopithecines
are found contemporaneously with Homo habilis and erectus, above
another layer which contains the remains of a circular stone
habitation, apparently made by humans. How could
australopithecines be the ancestor of habilis, or habilis of
erectus, if they are all found together? And how could erectus be
the ancestor of modern man, if traces of modern man are found below
it? There are a number of errors in this reasoning. First, the
australopithecines in question are robust, and are not considered
as ancestors of Homo. Even if they were, there is no reason why
they could not exist at the same time as a descendant species. A
new species can form by splitting off its parent. There is no
reason that the parent species must become extinct, otherwise the
total number of species could never increase. Finally, the claim
that the stone circle is an artifact has been dropped. It is only
a rough arrangement, and could have just as easily have been formed
by water or other activity at any time in the past. Even if it was
artificial, there is no reason to believe that habilis or erectus
would have been incapable of making it.
Creationists say things about Neandertals such as:
"The creationists in those days [the 1860's] responded 'Now
wait a minute. Neanderthals are just plain people, some of
whom suffered bone disease'"
"Nowadays, evolutionists agree with creationists: Neanderthals
were just plain people, no more different from people living
today than people than one living nation is different from
another" Parker in (Morris and Parker, 1982).
"Nowadays, Neanderthal Man is classified as Homo sapiens,
completely human" (Huse, 1983).
Actually, Neandertals are classified as Homo sapiens
neanderthalensis, a subspecies of man, in recognition of consistent
differences such as heavy brow ridges, a long low skull, a robust
skeleton, and others. (Some scientists believe the differences are
large enough to justify a separate species, Homo neanderthalensis)
Evolutionists last century claimed that these were real differences
between us and Neandertals, and they were right. Creationists
claimed that the differences were a result of various diseases, and
they were wrong. For Parker to claim that creationists won this
debate is a rewriting of history.
Amazingly, a century after scientists knew otherwise, many
creationists still believe that Neandertals were merely diseased
modern humans. Duane Gish, in a debate with Michael Shermer, said
that Neandertals were simply modern humans with rickets (or
arthritis). Malone (1994) agreed: "However, more recent tests have
revealed that all of the specimens [he is talking about discoveries
from the late 1800's] suffered from pathological diseases such as
rickets or arthritis". (I suspect these tests are either fictional
or misrepresented) Some, but by no means all, Neandertals have
been found with signs of these and other health problems. But
Neandertals have many distinctive features, and there is no reason
why these diseases (or any others) would cause any, let alone all,
of these features on even one, let alone many, individuals. Modern
knowledge and experience also contradicts the idea that disease is
a cause of Neandertal features.
Straus and Cave (1957) made a striking comment about Neandertals:
"Notwithstanding, if he could be reincarnated and placed in a New
York subway - provided that he were bathed, shaved, and dressed in
modern clothing - it is doubtful whether he would attract any more
attention than some of its other denizens". This may be a source
of the creationist idea that Neandertals are "just plain people"
(Morris and Parker, 1982). Note, though, that that is not what the
quote says. Anyone who has travelled the Big Apple's subway will
probably agree that Neandertals could look quite odd and still meet
Straus and Cave's rather lax criterion. Gish (1984) distorts this
quote by claiming that a Neandertal in a business suit could walk
down a city street and not attract more attention than any other
individual, a statement which is probably false.
Johanson and Edey (1981) extend the example by saying that if you
put Homo erectus on a subway, "people would probably take a
suspicious look at him". Put Homo habilis on the subway, and
"people would probably move to the other end of the car". Berra
(1990) states that "if cleaned up, shaved and dressed in business
suits, [Neandertals] could probably pass for television
The exhibit on Neandertals at ICR Museum says (or used to say)
"Many Neanderthal features are similar to those in elderly humans
today. Since humans lived to great ages in the initial generations
after the flood and Babel, perhaps the features are primarily due
to advanced age...". In fact, none of the distinctive features of
Neandertals are similar to those of old people, least of all
powerful bones and muscles. Whoever wrote this presumably also
thinks that Neandertals are arthritic modern humans.
The following quote from Trinkaus and Shipman (1992) refutes claims
that Neandertals differ no more from modern humans than living
races do from each other: "Rare individuals among modern humans may
share one, or even a few, of the anatomical characteristics of
Neandertals, but not one human - much less any population - can be
found that possesses the entire constellation of traits that define
Neandertals" (p 412).
A common creationist claim is that humans existed alongside or
predated all of their presumed ancestors in the fossil record.
Taylor (1992) contains a long list of supposed examples (with the
disclaimer "Remains which some researchers have suggested (but
_not_ proven) as evidence that the various "missing links" were
contemporaneous, or that man and these creatures were
Many of these cases are various hominid fossils which appear in the
correct position in the fossil record. Some of these have already
been mentioned: the Petralona specimen, 1470, the Turkana Boy, and
the Krapina specimens. Other examples are:
Laetoli footprints: creationists invariably mention the close
resemblance between these and modern human footprints, but usually
neglect to mention their extremely small size and the fact they
match the feet of the australopithecines living at the same time.
KP 271, "Kanapoi Hominid": this is a very worn fragment of a lower
left humerus (the upper arm bone), discovered by Brian Patterson in
1965, which is probably between 4 and 5 million years old. Hoesch
and Rajca (1994) state that this is indistinguishable from a human
bone, Parker and Morris (1982) state that it is a human bone. Both
neglect to mention that its small size is even better evidence that
it belongs to an australopithecine.
Swanscombe Man: two cranium fragments discovered in 1935 and 1936
by Alvan Marston in England, and a third fragment, discovered in
1955, which fit with the earlier fragments. The bones are modern
in form, but exceptionally thick, with an estimated brain size of
1325 cc. They are probably from an archaic Homo sapiens, a view
compatible with their estimated age of 200,000 to 300,000 years.
Fontechevade Man: a skullcap fragment which is difficult to
classify, and whose dating is doubtful, it is probably also an
Of the other "anomalous" hominid fossils, most are of fossil humans
that have since been discovered to be intrusions, i.e. they have
been buried in deposits that are older than they are. Examples
Oldoway Man: a skull and skeleton found by Hans Reck at Olduvai in
1913. In 1932 it was shown to be a modern Homo sapiens, buried
20,000 years ago in older deposits that had been exposed by
faulting. (Johanson and Shreeve, 1989)
Kanjera Man, Kanam Jaw: discovered by Louis Leakey in 1932, and
claimed by him to be very old. The dating however proved to be
uncertain, and both are probably modern bones. (Johanson and
Shreeve, 1989; Lewin, 1987)
Castenedolo Man: Morris and Parker (1982) say "Fossils of ordinary
people in Mid Tertiary rock [i.e. tens of millions of years old;
the actual date is about 1.5 million years] were found in
Castenedolo, Italy back in the late 1800's...". An official report
on these skeletons in 1899 noted that all the fossils from the
deposit were impregnated with salt, except the human ones. This
implies that they are from relatively recent burials. Collagen
tests in 1965 and radiocarbon dating in 1969 confirmed this.
Galley Hill Man: this was a modern-looking skeleton discovered in
1888 in old deposits. Even last century, many thought it was a
modern human, and this was confirmed in 1948 when it was fluorine
dated (Trinkaus and Shipman, 1992).
Henry Morris has claimed (1974) that since 10,000 year old Homo
erectus skulls were found at Kow Swamp in Australia, erectus cannot
be the ancestor of modern man. The logic is faulty, since there is
no reason that a population of erectus could not have survived long
after Homo sapiens first appeared. Morris also has his facts
wrong. Characteristics of the Kow Swamp skulls led to suggestions
that some Homo erectus _genes_ had survived in them, as the quote
Morris gives from the source material clearly states. Morris'
claim that they are erectus _skulls_ is incorrect.
In 1987, creationist Tom Willis claimed that the skeleton known as
"Lucy" consisted of bones that had been found at two sites about
1.5 miles (2.5 km) apart. Willis had actually confused two
separate finds which belong to the same species. This was a
spectacular error which could hardly have been made by anyone who
had done the most elementary research, but it didn't stop a number
of other creationists from picking up the claim and repeating it.
For a full history of this claim, read the talk.origins knee-joint
FAQ file (Lippard, 1994).
In 1950, Wilfred Le Gros Clark published a paper which definitively
settled the question of whether the australopithecines were apes or
not. He performed a morphological study (based on the shape and
function) of teeth and jaws, since these formed most of the fossil
evidence. By studying human and modern ape fossils, Le Gros Clark
came up with a list of eleven consistent differences between humans
and apes. Looking at A.africanus and robustus (the only
australopithecine species then known), he found that they were
humanlike rather than apelike in every characteristic. Judged by
the same characteristics, A.afarensis falls somewhere between
humans and apes, and probably closer to the apes (Johanson and
Edey, 1981). White et al. (1994) did not judge A.ramidus by these
criteria, but it is clear that ramidus is even more chimpanzee-like
than afarensis. The ramidus arm bones also display a mixture of
hominid and ape characteristics.
Solly Zuckerman attempted to prove with biometrical studies (based
on measurements) that the australopithecines were apes. Zuckerman
lost this debate in the 50's, and his position was abandoned by
everyone else (Johanson and Edey, 1981). Creationists like to
quote his opinions as if they were still a scientifically
Creationists are also reluctant to accept that australopithecines,
including Lucy, were bipedal. A statement by Weaver (1985) that
"Australopithecus afarensis ... demonstrates virtually complete
adaptation to upright walking" is dismissed by Willis (1987) as "a
preposterous claim". Willis adds: "Many competent anthropologists
have carefully examined these and other "Australopithicine" [sic]
remains and concluded that Lucy could not walk upright." Willis'
evidence for this consists of a statement by Solly Zuckerman made
in 1970; a 1971 statement from Richard Leakey that
australopithecines "may have been knuckle-walkers", and a quote
from Charles Oxnard about the relationship between humans,
australopithecines and the apes.
It is worth noting that two of these three quotes were made before
Lucy, and A. afarensis, was even discovered. Zuckerman's views
have long since been discredited. Leakey was merely making a
suggestion, not stating an opinion, and he has since stated (1994)
that Lucy "undoubtedly was a biped". Oxnard has some unorthodox
opinions about the australopithecines, but he has also stated that
they were bipedal, just not in the human manner (Oxnard, 1987).
Furthermore, the Oxnard quote supplied by Willis discusses neither
bipedality nor A. afarensis.
"From the neck down, certain clues suggested to Johanson that
Lucy walked a little more erect than today's chimps. This
conclusion, based on his interpretation of the partial hip
bone and a knee bone, has been hotly contested by many
paleoanthropologists." (Morris, 1994)
Almost everything in this quote is a distortion (Johanson's and
Lucy's names are about the only exceptions). "Certain clues
suggested" doesn't mention that the whole find screamed
"bipedality" to every qualified scientist who looked at it. "a
little more erect", when everyone believes that Lucy was fully
erect. "the partial hip bone and a knee bone", when Lucy included
almost a complete pelvis and leg (taking mirror imaging into
account, and excluding the foot). "has been hotly contested", when
no reputable paleoanthropologist denies that Lucy was bipedal. The
debates are about whether she was also partly arboreal, and about
how similar the biomechanics of her locomotion was to that of
humans. Given that we have most of Lucy's leg and pelvis, one has
to wonder what sort of fossil evidence it would take to convince
creationists of australopithecine bipedality. Fossil footprints?
No, we have those. Fossilized Reeboks?
Creationist consider all australopithecines apes. There is some
justification for that, since most people would probably call one
an ape if they saw it. But they were bipedal apes with humanlike
teeth and an enlarged brain, a good candidate for human ancestors.
Two creationist books dealing specifically with the hominid fossil
record, which I have not yet read, are Malcom Bowden's "Ape-Men:
Fact or Fallacy?" and Marvin Lubenow's "Bones of Contention". Of
the creationist books listed here, Gish (1984) deals most
extensively with the topic of hominid fossils.
Short articles which give a good account of human evolution are
Weaver (1985), Brace (1983) and Berra (1990). For good book-length
treatments, I would recommend Johanson and Edey (1981), Willis
(1989), and Trinkaus and Shipman (1992), which is more wide-ranging
than its title might indicate. Academic works of interest are
Brace et al. (1979), which contains line drawings and brief
descriptions of about 50 important fossils, and Day (1986), which
contains a far more extensive and detailed list of fossils obtained
from about 50 major sites, along with many photographs.
This FAQ file will be added to on a regular basis. Contact the
author (email@example.com) with corrections,
criticisms, or suggestions for further topics.
Berra, T.: The evolution of life and the rise of humans. In:
Evolution and the myth of creationism, Stanford,California:Stanford
University Press, 1990, p. 70-119.
Brace C.L., Nelson H., Korn N. and Brace M.L.: Atlas of human
evolution, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979. Ed. 2
Brace, C.L.: Humans in time and space. In: Scientists confront
creationism, edited by Godfrey, L.R. Toronto:George J. McLeod,
1983, p. 245-282.
Broom R.: The pleistocene anthropoid apes of south africa. Nature
142:377-379, 1938. (announcement of the discovery of
Day M.H.: Guide to fossil man, Chicago:University of Chicago Press,
1986. Ed. 4
Fezer K.D.: Creation's incredible witness: Duane T. Gish, Ph.D. C/E
Gish D.T.: Evolution: the fossils say no, San Diego:Creation-Life
Publishers, 1984. Ed. 3
Gould, S.J.: Sizing up human intelligence. In: Ever since Darwin,
Pelican Books, 1978, p. 179-185.
Gould, S.J.: An essay on a pig roast. In: Bully for brontosaurus,
New York:W.W.Norton, 1991, p. 432-447.
Gould, S.J.: Men of the thirty-third division. In: Eight little
piggies, New York:W.W.Norton, 1993, p. 124-137.
Hoesch B. and Rajca J.: Another attempt at a missing link. Science,
Scripture and Salvation (ICR radio show) Nov 5:1994.
Huse S.M.: The collapse of evolution, Baker Book House Company,
Johanson D.C. and Edey M.A.: Lucy: the beginnings of humankind, New
York:Simon and Schuster, 1981. pp. 1-409.
Johanson D.C. and Shreeve J.: Lucy's child: the discovery of a
human ancestor, New York:Early Man Publishing, Inc, 1989.
Leakey L.S.B.: A new fossil skull from olduvai. Nature 184:491-493,
1959. (announcement of the discovery of Australopithecus boisei)
Leakey L.S.B., Tobias P.V. and Napier J.R.: A new species of the
genus homo from olduvai gorge. Nature 202:7-10, 1964. (announcement
of the discovery of Homo habilis)
Leakey R.E.: The origin of humankind, New York:BasicBooks, 1994.
Leakey R.E. and Lewin R.: Origins reconsidered: in search of what
makes us human, New York:Doubleday, 1992.
Lewin R.: Bones of contention, New York:Simon and Schuster, 1987.
(discusses in detail some of the major controversies that have
occurred in paleoanthropology)
Lippard J.L.: Lucy's knee joint: how creationists deal with their
errors, 1994. (talk.origins FAQ file)
Malone B.: Search for the truth: A-1 anthropology, 1994. (posted
on talk.origins newsgroup)
Morris H.M.: Scientific creationism, Santee,California:Master
Morris H.M. and Parker G.E.: What is creation science? San
Diego:Creation-Life Publishers, 1982.
Morris J.D.: Has the "missing link" been found? Acts & Facts
Oxnard C.: Fossils, teeth and sex, Hong Kong:Hong Kong University
Straus W.L.,Jr. and Cave A.J.E.: Pathology and posture of
neanderthal man. Quarterly Review of Biology 32(4):348-363, 1957.
Taylor P.S.: The illustrated origins answer book, Mesa,Arizona:Eden
Productions, 1992. Ed. 4
Theunissen B.: Eugene Dubois and the ape-man from java,
Dordrecht,The Netherlands:Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989.
Trinkaus E. and Shipman P.: The neandertals, New York:Alfred E.
Weaver K.F.: The search for our ancestors. National Geographic
White T.D., Suwa G. and Asfaw B.: Australopithecus ramidus, a new
species of early hominid from Aramis, Ethiopia. Nature 371:306-312,
Willis Delta: The hominid gang, New York:Viking, 1989.
Willis Tom: Lucy goes to college. Bible-Science Newsletter
Wood B.A.: The oldest hominid yet. Nature 371:280-281, 1994.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank