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The discovery of the oldest human ancestor is (again) called into question

27.08.2002


Analyses of the similar bones to the fossils lead a leading physiologist to term the anthropological finding as ’farfetched speculation’



The remains included a jawbone with teeth, hand bones and foot bones, fragments of arms, and a piece of collarbone. The remains also included a single toe bone; its form providing strong evidence that the pre-human creatures walked upright.

The discovery by two Ethiopian scholars, Yohannes Haile-Selassie, an anthropologist studying at the University of California at Berkeley, and Giday Wolde Gabriel, a geologist at the university’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The team discovered the first fossils in 1997, with the latest one found in 2001.


According to the journal Nature, the fossil bones predate the oldest previously discovered human ancestor by more than a million years. The teeth and bone fragments apparently are from a hominid that emerged sometime after the split. The hominid is part of a newly named subspecies of early man called Ardipithecus. The discoverers state that Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba is a "Missing Link" -- the yet-undiscovered creature that lived at the cusp of the evolutionary division between man and chimp – but researcher Haile-Selassie said the hominid certainly is very close to the branching point.

The world’s media trumpeted the news of this anthropological find. Time magazine dedicated a cover story to the discovery; a staff writer, referred to the special toe bone stating "This… (AME-VP-1/71) proves the creature walked on two legs. . . . How apes became human. Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba. What a new discovery tells scientists about how our oldest ancestors stood on two legs and made an evolutionary leap."

Not so fast, states a leading physiologist and an authority on the study of fossils. He believes that if length was the only objective measurement made on AME-VP-1/71, then there might be a simple method to yield objective evidence to bridge the gap between the scant subjective determinations and that the far-reaching conclusion about this "evolutionary leap."

The author of "An Objective Ancestry Test for Fossil Bones," is Joseph Mastropaolo, PhD, Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach; Adjunct Professor, Institute for Creation Research. He is presenting his findings at "The Power of Comparative Physiology: Evolution, Integration and Application" an American Physiological Society intersociety meeting scheduled for August 24-28, 2002, at the Town & Country Hotel, San Diego, CA. Find out more at http://www.the-aps.org/meetings/aps/san_diego/home.htm

If AME-VP-1/71 tested intermediate between chimpanzees and humans and resembled least baboons, then the conclusions of Haile-Salassie and Robinson would have objective support. Accordingly, a test was applied to objectively determine for each bone a central axis and the deviations from it to the lateral and medial bone borders at decile distances from the proximal to the distal end. For each bone in the same order, these deviations in tenths of millimeters would be tabulated and correlated. A high correlation between two bones would indicate a high degree of similarity.

Methodology

The Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba AME-VP-1/71 bone was correlated with the baboon bone, the chimpanzee bone, and the human bone. The baboon, chimpanzee and human bones also were compared to each other.

For each bone, for each decile proximal to distal, all the lateral distances were tabulated in order followed by all the medial distances. These scores determined the correlational r, the mathematical magnitude of the similarity expressed from 0.0, no similarity, to 1.0, perfect in similarity. This test was validated by determining the correlation of the bone with itself at a different magnification. This test should be independent of image magnification and the correlation should approach 1.0.

This test also was affirmed by identifying the correlation of the same bone in two different anthropological atlases. Given atlases with perfect fidelity, this test ought to be independent of the atlas employed and the correlation ought to approach 1.0. The criterion for similarity was that a correlation exceed the correlation between the phalanx 1 toe bone and its anatomical neighbor, the phalanx 2 toe bone. A correlation equal to or less than that was considered as dissimilar as a bone for an anatomically neighboring bone. A correlation equal to or less than the one between the phalanx 1 and phalanx 3 toe bones was considered as grossly dissimilar as a bone for an anatomical neighbor two bones away.

Results

An assessment of the bones from the monkey (baboon), ape (chimpanzee) and human, found similarity between the ape and monkey, dissimilarity between the human and monkey, and the least similarity among apes and humans. The monkey and ape similarities to human bone were less than for an anatomically different bone.

The fossil toe bone had scant similarity to humans, dissimilarity to monkeys and most dissimilarity to apes with the dissimilarities to monkeys and apes like those for an anatomically different bone.

Conclusions

The research results suggest that the famous AME-VP-1/71 bone had scant similarity to human bone, was dissimilar to baboon bone and was most dissimilar to chimpanzee bone. The baboon bone was similar to the chimpanzee and dissimilar to human bone. The chimpanzee was most dissimilar to humans. Human bone had no similarity to monkey or ape bone. Accordingly, the objective ancestry analyses for fossil bones assert that the conclusions of Haile-Salassie and Robinson were farfetched speculations.

Donna Krupa | EurekAlert!

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