Monday, January 10, 2011
Qesem Cave Finds in Perspective
Avi Gopher, who led the team, told Agence France-Presse that this find casts doubt on the "out of Africa" theory. However, Israel has always been geographically, linguistically and ethnically an extension of Africa. It is the homeland of the Hamitic and Semitic peoples, descended from Ham and Shem, whose lines intermarried.
The teeth found in Israel are not as old as the remains of other humans found in East Africa. The find contributes nothing to the picture of human origins. It merely confirms the existence of humans in Palestine 400,000 years ago.
The findings were just published this month in the "American Journal of Physical Anthropology."
Read more here.
Things to keep in mind when reading media reports such as this one:
1. The earliest human fossils show a range of anatomical features yet all these features are found among humans today. The nearly complete skulls of people who lived 160,000 years ago are, in the words of paleontologist Tim White, "like modern-day humans in almost every feature." (Read the report on the 160,000 year old Ethiopian fossils here.)
2. When Jeremy DeSilva, a British anthropologist, compared the ankle joint, the tibia and the talus of fossil "hominins" between 4.12 million to 1.53 million years old, he discovered that all of the hominin ankle joints resembled those of modern humans rather than those of apes. Chimpanzees flex their ankles 45 degrees from normal resting position. This makes it possible for apes to climb trees with great ease. While walking, humans flex their ankles a maximum of 20 degrees. The human ankle quite distinct from that of apes. Read more here.
3. Some of the australopithecine ("ape of the South") fossils dating between 700,000 and 2.4 million years are recognized as "early human fossils". Some are recognized as having had human dentition, bipedalism and stone tools. Working from their convergent evolution framework, Richard, Mary and Louis Leakey named some fossils "Zinjanthropus" (now called Australopithecus boisei), others "Homo habilis", and Lucy and her community "Australopithecus". These are presented as divergence strains of hominids, including the extinct and extant humans and mammals. This classification has been revised several times because the criterion of classification of human and ape has not been consistently applied.
4. With DNA samples from 2400 individuals from more than 100 modern African populations, researchers have identified a panel of 1327 sites of genetic variation across the entire genome. Analysis of the data suggests that modern Africans are descended from 14 ancestral populations, which correlate with known linguistic groups. Comparative linguistics and genetics are moving to similar conclusions when it comes to the question of "change" among humans. The evidence in both fields indicates a limited amount of flux, but no essential change. To read about Sarah Tishkoff's African gene study go here.