Number Crunching

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on June 11, 2011

Nature: “Female australopiths seek brave new worldSmile, crunch the numbers, and make something out of nothing.

Analysis of strontium isotopes in South African hominid teeth has provided enough material to get published in Nature, but it took some creative statistical efforts. This study analyzed tooth enamel from two different species of hominids and determined that they had gender-related cultural patterns similar to modern humans and chimpanzees.

Minerals like strontium get concentrated in plants and the animals that consume them. The isotopes of strontium native to a particular location can thereby be permanently incorporated into the tooth enamel of children growing up there.

Enamel from the teeth of eight Australopithecus africanus and eleven Paranthropus robustus skulls were assayed for strontium isotopes. All the fossils were from the dolomite valley caves of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans. Strontium isotopes from the fossils were compared to the strontium isotopes present in 170 plants and animals that live in the region today.

On the evolutionary version of the human family tree, Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus are both considered distant relations of humans. The Austrolopithecus is supposedly on the branch that evolved into humans. The Paranthropus branch is considered an evolutionary dead end. Besides having different evolutionary destinies, these two non-human primates are believed to have lived at different times—2–3 million years ago and 1.2–2 million years ago, respectively.

Big teeth were assumed to belong to males and small teeth to females. When the species were analyzed separately, no patterns were significant. However, when all the data was pooled, “about 90% of the larger teeth looked local, compared with less than half of the smaller teeth.” One researcher told Nature, “we did have to combine these samples in order to get a valid statistical result.”1

The group believes “the behavioural patterns of our primate relatives” will help us understand the evolution of the human family. “The females grew up somewhere else,” says archaeologist Julia Lee-Thorp. She adds, “It's a very small clue, but it's something that is at least hard evidence for what we really didn't have before.”

Their enamel is then evaluated in comparison to isotope data obtained from modern flora and fauna—presumably unchanged over 2 million years.

Thus, fossils that aren’t even believed by the evolutionists to be on the same “human track” of the evolutionary tree or to have lived at the same time are being lumped together. Their enamel is then evaluated in comparison to isotope data obtained from modern flora and fauna—presumably unchanged over 2 million years. From this information, we are expected to get some hints about the origin of the human families.

This example illustrates that enough determined statistical gymnastics can make about any point you want. Some would call that a bit of a stretch.

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