Thursday, July 8, 2010

First Humans in Britain

There is an interesting discovery announced yesterday about the first "humans" in Britain. This appears to be evidence of the earliest known population of the genus Homo in Northern Europe.

"First humans arrived in Britain 250,000 years earlier than thought"

A couple points to bear in mind as you read the article and watch the fascinating video clip. Paleoanthropologists refer to this specimen as "human," but that's because they refer to any hominid on two feet a "human." The precise species they are identifying in this article is Homo antecessor.

What the article doesn't tell you is that Homo antecessor is known only by a few jaw and skull fragments. From these bones discovered in Spain...

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Homo_antecessor.jpg

we get these reconstructions/recreations.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Homo_antecessor_male.jpg

Photo: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/7/7/1278521413575/First-humans-in-Britain-006.jpg

If I have understood this discovery correctly, these scientists are identifying the flint tools as being the product of Homo antecessor based on the time placement and technology level of the artifacts.

Source: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/7/7/1278525472855/Stone-tool-fragments-010.jpg
Photo: Photograph: Sang Tan/AP

The artifacts were found in a layer of brown gravel, beneath layers of sand and silt.

Source: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/7/7/1278507997483/Excavations-in-progress-005.jpg
Photograph: Phil Crabb/Natural History Museum, London


Homo antecessor supposedly lived in Europe from 1.2 million to 800,000 years ago. The train of thought here is that since Homo antecessor lived in Europe (specifically Spain) during the time frame in question (840,000 or 950,000 years ago), then they deduce (hypothesize?) these tools must have been made by a small band of Homo antecessor who migrated from Spain to England over a land bridge.

Source: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/7/7/1278506682038/Reconstruction-of-the-pal-001.jpg
Photo: Parfitt et al/Nature

To my knowledge, they haven't yet found any actual bones or bone fragments of Homo antecessor in England, but perhaps this evidence will be forthcoming.

I think the jury is still out on whether we know for sure these tools were actually made by Homo antecessor and to what degree of certainty we can posit the very existence of Homo antecessor. Even so, we do know that "someone" made these tools and for that reason alone they are worth investigating. I just want to make sure we are careful to differentiate fact/data from speculation and hypothesis.

Short sidebar - Readers of this blog should know by now how pro mainstream science I am. I have consistently raised the banner of good science here. That being said, we also need to make sure to define our terms and evaluate the data carefully. I do find it curious the existence of this species is so widely accepted with so little data. Perhaps there is additional data that I am unaware of. If so, please alert me.

My personal position is that all true humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) are the descendants of Adam and Eve. In other words, I do not believe the biblical or scientific evidence is compelling enough to hold to common descent. By this definition, I would not understand these creatures in Britain to be true humans, but rather hominids. (For more about this view, see Who was Adam?)

Again, I want to clearly state I believe this discovery is still worth learning about and understanding. If for no other reason because these creatures were made by God and when we study God's creation, we are learning about the Creator.

2 comments:

nick drt said...

Thanks for showing, as well as telling, the science behind this speculative science. I agree that homo sapien sapiens has not been shown to have descended from hominids nor have homonids been shown to relate to each other. see Who Was Adam. Agree, the science is fascinating and, when done well, deserves our interest.
Great blog today.

Rebecca said...

Great blog post and great article.
I do really wish they wouldn't show all those drawings of people they only have half a jaw and a chip of skull for, though.