In early April, my email inbox began to fill with messages calling my attention to some new discoveries made at the Spanish site of Atapuerca. The site has been around for some time. In the 1990s, archaeologists recovered bones and artifacts at Atapuerca, which they attributed to a creature that they called Homo antecessor. Those discoveries were given an age of about 800,000 years. But the new discoveries, reported in the March 26, 2008 edition of Nature, are 1.2 million years old, extending the age of Homo antecessor by about 400,000 years. Scientist began to call Homo antecessor “the first European.”
In speaking about Homo antecessor, scientists have thrown the word “human” around very loosely. Many of them have called Homo antecessor human. When most ordinary people hear the word “human,” they think the scientists mean humans like us today, Homo sapiens. But if the bones found in Spain really are human in that sense, then why not call them Homo sapiens? In this case, I think that would be the proper thing to do. If we look at the visual reconstructions that scientists have made of Homo antecessor, we find that this creature very much resembles humans like us (Homo sapiens), as can be seen in the accompanying illustrations. In these pictures, you do not see anything you could not see among people walking the streets today. In terms of height, Homo antecessor was between five and six feet tall, according to the researchers who discovered the fossils. Most humans today are that height. Also, some researchers say they believe that Homo antecessor could produce the same range of sounds as modern humans, which means they probably had human speech, as well as the capacity for symbolic thought.
But most scientists today are evolutionists, and they believe that humans like us, modern Homo sapiens, appeared only about 100,000 years ago. They believe that archaic Homo sapiens may have existed up to a few hundred thousand years ago. But before that, they believe there were no Homo sapiens of any kind. Therefore when scientists who believe in evolution find humanlike fossils older than a few hundred thousand years old, they exaggerate minor differences from modern human bones, or they claim to see such minor differences when they really are none. And then they go on to give the creatures to whom the bones belonged names of species other than Homo sapiens (such as Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo antecessor, etc.) , thus creating an illusion of evolutionary progression.
Let’s consider some of the ways that Homo antecessor is supposed to be different from Homo sapiens. The average brain capacity of Homo antecessor is said to be between 1000 and 1100 cubic centimeters. Although this is below the modern human average of about 1350 cubic centimeters, it is still well within the modern human range which goes from about 900 cubic centimeters to about 1800 cubic centimeters. Another thing to consider: one of the Atapuerca skulls (Cranium 4) has a brain volume of 1390 cubic centimeters, which is just above the modern human average. As far as the shape of the skull is concerned, some scientists point out that Homo antecessor has an occipital bun. The occipital is the bone that forms the rear part of the skull. An occipital bun is a pronounced protrusion of the middle of the occipital, forming a “bun” on the back of the head. The occipital bun is found in many skulls of Homo erectus and the Neanderthals. But anthropologist Daniel Lieberman pointed out in the PBS special Neanderthals On Trial (2002): “There are lots of human populations that have occipital buns….There are some recent people in Europe who have them. If you’re a Lapp or a Finn, you’re more likely to have the occipital bun. But bushmen from South Africa often have occipital buns. And Australian aborigines often have occipital buns.” Scientists say that Homo antecessor had a low forehead. But many humans today also have low foreheads. Scientists say that Homo antecessor did not have a chin, but there are many living humans who also do not have developed chins. So if you add it all up, the features found in Homo antecessor are not different from those found in modern human populations. So why should we give this creature a name that indicates it is a species different from our own? At most, it is a variety, a subspecies. So we should either call it Homo sapiens, plain and simple, or, if you like, Homo sapiens antecessor. But I would prefer calling it simply Homo sapiens.
So in reality the discoveries at Atapuerca provide evidence that Homo sapiens, humans like us, were present 1.2 million years ago in Europe. The scientists involved in the discoveries say that this dating is quite secure, because the date was arrived at by the convergence of three different dating methods—paleomag-netism, cosmogenic nuclides, and biostratigraphy.
But that does not make the Homo sapiens found in Spain the earliest Europeans. There are human skeletal remains older than that from Europe.
In 1855, an anatomically modern human jaw was discovered at Foxhall, England, by workers digging in a quarry. Robert H. Collyer, an American physician then residing in London, acquired the fossil. He noted that the bed from which the jaw was said to have been taken was 16 feet below the surface, in the Red Crag formation (H. F. Osborn, Natural History, 1921, vol. 21, p. 567). The condition of the jaw, thoroughly infiltrated with iron oxide, was consistent with incorporation in this bed. The 16-foot level of the Red Crag formation at Foxhall is the same from which J. Reid Moir later recovered stone tools and signs of fire. Anything found in the Red Crag formation would be at least 2.5 million years old.
In December of 1879, a landowner at Castenedolo, Italy, noticed some human bones in an excavation. Professor Giuseppe Ragazzoni, a geologist at the Technical Institute of Brescia, traveled to Castenedolo and collected the bones, which included pieces of the skull, some teeth, and parts of the backbone, ribs, arms, legs, and feet. More bones were found over the next few weeks. On February 16, a complete anatomically modern human skeleton was discovered. Ragazzoni journeyed to the site and supervised the excavation. The skeleton, enveloped in a mass of blue clay, turned out to be that of an anatomically modern human female. “The skeleton,” said Ragazzoni in his original report (Commentari dell’ Ateneo di Brescia, 1880, April 4, p. 123), “was found in the middle of the layer of blue clay….The stratum of blue clay, which is over 1 meter [3 feet] thick, has preserved its uniform stratification, and does not show any sign of disturbance.” He added, “The skeleton was very likely deposited in a kind of marine mud and not buried at a later time, for in this case one would have been able to detect traces of the overlaying yellow sand and the iron-red clay called ferretto.” Modern geologists place the blue clays at Castenedolo in the Astian stage of the Middle Pliocene, which would give the discoveries from Castenedolo an age of about 3–4 million years.
Another Pliocene find comes from Savona, a town on the Italian Riviera, about 30 miles west of Genoa. In the 1850s, while constructing a church, workmen discovered an anatomically modern human skeleton at the bottom of a trench 3 meters (10 feet) deep. The layer containing the skeleton was the same age as the layer containing the skeletons at Castenedolo (de Mortillet, Le Prehistorique, 1883, p. 70), i.e., Middle Pliocene, about 3–4 million years old. Arthur Issel communicated details of the Savona find to the members of the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology at Paris in 1867. He declared that the Savona human “was contemporary with the strata in which he was found” (de Mortillet 1883, p. 70). Some suggested the skeleton was recently buried in the place where it was found. But a report given at the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology at Bologna in 1871 pointed out that above the dark layer of clay in which the skeleton was found was an upper layer containing white sand. If the skeleton had been buried, white sand should have been mixed with the clay. But the layer of clay in which the skeleton was found was unmixed. Also the cavities of the bones of the skeleton were filled with the unmixed clay. This could have happened only when the clay was soft, during the Pliocene period millions of years ago. Also, the skeleton was found at a depth of 3 meters (10 feet), rather deep for a burial.
De Mortillet (1883, p. 72) also mentions a human skeleton found in a Late Eocene formation at Delemont, Switzerland (that would be about 30 million years old) and a human skeleton found in a Miocene formation at Midi de France (that could be up to 20 million years old). Anyway, when we look at all the evidence, we see that the human bones recently found at Atapuerca, which are 1.2 million years old, are not really those of the oldest Europeans.
Michael A. Cremo is author, with Richard Thompson, of the underground classic Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race. His latest book is Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (see www.humandevolution.com).