Evolution? The headline seemed to be saying there was more data showing how ancient apes split into two groups, one heading toward modern gorillas and the other leading to other modern apes — and humans. I’m blogging about “Fossils Shed New Light on Human-Gorilla Split,” LiveScience.com, By Charles Q. Choi, 2/11/2016.
As usual, the title of the original research report was a bit clearer: “New geological and palaeontological age constraint for the gorilla–human lineage split.” (Nature 530, 215–218 (11 February 2016) doi:10.1038/nature16510) In other words, the data merely shows a limit on when the split might have happened — assuming that it did happen, and that the dating method is accurate.
What is this all about? Fossil teeth again. One thing we know for sure, the fossil teeth that appear to be the oldest gorilla teeth ever found “resembled those of modern gorillas.” Not much to go on, but it sounds like there has not been much change (evolution) between Chororapithecus and living gorillas.
Evolutionists since Darwin have tended to see humans as not that different from apes. Darwin talked of future humans being more different from us than “savage” races are from apes, and early interpretations of Neanderthals and even Cro-Magnons placed them as much more ape-like than we are. As the data keeps coming in, however, we find more modern features in earlier-dated creatures, and find more signs of advanced capabilities associated with Neanderthals and other fossils assigned to our genus. So the magic moments when common ancestors started specializing in different ways keep getting pushed back into the mists of time.
According to the Yahoo article, the case of the Chororapithecus teeth started when they were discovered in 2007. The study published in Nature notes that the formation they were found in had been thought for some time to be up to about ten and a half million years old. The study reports that the results obtained from various studies indicate a date of about 8 million years for the teeth.
This is significant because, as the Yahoo article quotes lead researcher Gen Suwa, “most scientists, especially geneticists, thought that the human-chimp split was as recent as 5 million years ago, and that the human-gorilla split was only about 7 million to 8 million years ago,” but (still quoting Suwa) “This contradicted the fossil record. For example, fossils thought to be on the human side of the split such as Ardipithecus kadabba from Ethiopia and Sahelanthropus from Chad were 6 million years old — or, in the case of the Chad fossil, perhaps 7 million years old.”
This is something of an addition to an old story — evolutionary expectations and genetic studies failing to be supported by the fossil record. However, it may be significant that there was a study back in 2010 that predicted this sort of find: “New Statistical Model Moves Human Evolution Back Three Million Years,” ScienceDaily (Nov. 5, 2010) That study, an analysis of living primates, DNA, and fossils, suggested that “Evolutionary divergence of humans and chimpanzees likely occurred some 8 million years ago rather than the 5 million year estimate widely accepted by scientists…”
So evolutionists can say that progress has been made in piecing together the story of the evolution of modern apes, including humans (just bubble-brained bipedal apes with a severe pelt problem in the evolutionary scheme of things). Actually, the story has changed as to when, but we really don’t have any more information showing how we all split off from our common ancestors.
In fact, there are two aspects of this case that don’t bode well for that part of the story of evolution.
One is simply that the teeth are too obviously gorilla teeth, little as they are to go on. As the Yahoo article notes, they “appeared specialized for eating stems and leaves, and resembled those of modern gorillas.” Since they are dated as about 8 million years old, and are so similar to the teeth of living gorillas, Suwa is quoted, “the actual gorilla-human split must then have been up to several million years before that,” at about 10 million years ago. This in turn, if less directly, implies that our ancestors started to differentiate from the apes that also produced chimps about 8 million years ago.
But those dates are rather bad news when it comes to evidence for that split, for precisely the same reason there is excitement over these teeth in relation to the date assigned to them. Once again, evolution seems to have the funny habit of happening just where the fossil record is thinnest. As it is, as Yahoo notes, “Although the fossil record of human evolution is still patchy, it is better understood than that of great apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas.” Looking for the key steps in the story of our evolution may be difficult because (quoting Suwa once more) “Until now, no mammalian fossils south of the Sahara have been securely dated to 8 million to 9 million years ago,” let alone advanced primate fossils, which are rare in any formation. From the Nature report we learn that “few fossil assemblages…have been reported” from the “palaeobiological record of 12 million to 7 million years ago” in that area. These gorilla teeth and other fossils found in the area and given similar dates are set forth as contrary to some suggestions that humans and modern great apes evolved in Asia or Eurasia instead of sub-Saharan Africa, but if so, it looks like it’s going to be hard to find evidence for first (and therefore arguably the most important) steps in the story of our evolution.
So, there really isn’t any fossil evidence that there was a population of apes or ape-like creatures from which gorillas, humans, and chimpanzees evolved, and it doesn’t look likely that it will ever be found. Apart from the dating, which cannot be demonstrated to be accurate, the fossils simply show a number of distinct apes and humans.