Ancient Human Cannibal

on May 29, 2010

Add to the list of ancient humans Homo gautengensis, a chimp-like creature that may have had a dark past.

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The “new” human species is based on a variety of bone fragments discovered in South Africa and dated to between 800,000 and 2 million years old. Overall, the fragments are believed to have come from six different H. gautengensis individuals. Until now, the bones have been classified as Homo habilis, but they are now classified as H. gautengensis by University of New South Wales anthropologist Darren Curnoe in a study set to appear in the journal HOMO.

As for what H. gautengensis was like (supposedly): 3.5 feet (1 m) tall with long arms and a chimp’s face. According to Curnoe, H. gautengensis was probably a tool-user and fire-maker despite its smaller brain. Oh, and one more thing: H. gautengensis may have been a cannibal.

Unfortunately for evolutionists, H. gautengensis causes problems for the timeline of human evolution. It overlaps with the time period of Homo erectus, considered the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens; for that reason, Curnoe isn’t sure if H. gautengensis was a direct ancestor of humans or not.

Curnoe claims H. gautengensis may have swung through the trees, though his evidence—hints in the fossils of “inner-ear organs of balance” suggesting such behavior—are questionable. As for the cannibalism, the most complete H. gautengensis skull shows cut marks, suggesting it was “de-fleshed, either for ritual burial or cannibalistic consumption,” Curnoe said.

The most complete H. gautengensis skull shows cut marks.

But Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology paleontologist Fred Spoor, who was not involved in the study, notes that “there is not enough bone preserved to make an uncontroversial reconstruction,” of this “most complete” skull. Such insufficient bone material from which conclusions are drawn—which involves loads of assumptions in the interpretation process—seems to be the rule, not the exception, in studies of human fossils and the question of origins.

Curnoe and Spoor are also puzzled over the relationship between H. gautengensis and Australopithecus sediba, the recently discovered “could-be” human ancestor we reported on in April. Each creature seems to be more (or less) primitive than the other in certain ways, and the sparse remains in both cases don’t help matters.

"There were many different species living at the same time, and alongside our own species and ancestors, until really very recently," Curnoe explained. This seems to fit with the biblical view that humankind, despite its in-kind superficial variations, is fundamentally the same—not a progression from ape to higher man, but all descended from our original human ancestors, Adam and Eve. Of course, creationists must be cautious; some supposed “human ancestors” described in the past are quite clearly apes of some kind and not human at all. But by starting from Scripture rather than from incomplete bones, we can be confident we have the correct perspective for framing the human ancestors debate.

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