Meet Homo Naledi

According to recent reports, a new species of human was discovered in South Africa, named Homo naledi (meaning “star” in the South African language of Sesotho). The skeletal remains of this creature were found in a difficult-to-reach cave system called Rising Star. And although the age of the bones are unknown, some scientists have estimated this creature lived 2.5 to 2.8 million years ago. At least 15 specimens were found, including juveniles, infants and adults. And because the chamber where they were found was so remote, some scientists are concluding that this is evidence of burial- something only humans practice.

Biological anthropologist Dr. Tracy Kivell said, “The hands suggest tool-using capabilities.” And Dr. William Harcourt-Smith of City University said that the feet may have been “virtually indistinguishable from those of modern humans.” Researchers also describe an adult specimen as standing about five feet tall and weighing about 100 pounds- similar to small-bodied human populations, and having “humanlike manipulatory adaptations of the hand and wrist.”

I think it’s clear that these scientists intend to make this creature near-human, or claim that it’s evolving into a human. But I’m taking the position that it’s nothing more than an extinct ape. To claim that the hands “suggest tool-using capabilities” is kind of moot. Modern apes and chimps use tools, as do crows, elephants and other animals, yet no one claims we evolved from any of them. So to claim that the hands of H. naledi “suggest” tool-using capability doesn’t demonstrate any kind of evolutionary descent. Nor does it mean that this creature could manipulate tools the way we can. Further, a suggestion acknowledges a certain degree of uncertainty, and that’s fair because no one has ever observed their behavior in the wild to verify whether or not they did indeed use tools. And without any tools found with the bones, there’s no real evidence to substantiate Dr. Kivell’s claims. Therefore the hands are weak evidence for anyone wishing to make the claim that we’re somehow related to these creatures.

On the contrary, the fingers are described as “extremely curved”, evidence that these creatures swung from trees and were good climbers, like chimpanzees. Other evidence demonstrating that this creature was a kind of ape includes the ape-like shoulders, pelvis and ribcage. The skull and brain are also tiny, some comparing it to the size of an orange, and is more comparable to an Australopithecus (another supposed human ancestor). It has a sloped, ape-like face, the jaw is similar to an Australopithecus, and it has no protruding nasal bones like humans; the foot has a different orientation than our feet, the thumb differs from all known hominins, and the teeth structure doesn’t match that of humans.

Something else I take issue with is the artist’s rendition of H. naledi; it depicts a flat, ape-like nose and a brutish frown on a near-human body. This recreation is typical of any newly discovered ape-like creature thought to be a human ancestor. A candidate that is ape-like is given human features and characteristics, while an ancient human is made to look more ape-like; it’s part of the effort to inspire the public to accept evolution without critical thinking. After all, when we view the artwork of H. naledi, for example, what we see is half ape and half human, so it must be true! Few question how authentic the artwork is in relation to the actual living organism that lived sometime in the past and cannot be observed. To the artist’s credit, however, he did spend 700 hours working to recreate the head based on bone scans, which is impressive, but it’s clear that an evolutionary bias was at work to make it look like a missing link.

As for the idea that these creatures were buried, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger is convinced that that’s the case, saying, “We’ve come to the conclusion that this species of non-human hominid was deliberately disposing of its dead, taking the dangerous journey into this deep chamber to place its dead or drop its dead into a place inaccessible by any other.” This is significant because burying the dead is something considered unique to humans. But now, he says, that’s no longer the case.

I don’t think this conclusion holds up to scrutiny. Berger reasons that the creatures couldn’t have been deposited there by flood waters because there wasn’t much debris with them. But that could still be a possibility. There were about a dozen other animal bones found with them, including birds and mice- and no one is suggesting that the birds or mice were burying their dead. In addition, there were no items buried with H. naledi, a common practice with human burials.

Therefore there’s no reason to conclude that H. naledi was deliberately burying its dead when more reasonable options are available. Aside from floodwaters, they could have crawled in and gotten stuck, or perhaps they were fleeing from a predator.

Nonetheless, other scientists aren’t convinced of Berger’s claims either. Christoph Zollikofer of the University of Zurich said, “The ‘new species’ and ‘dump-the-dead’ claims are clearly for the media. None of them is substantiated by the data presented in the publications.” Anthropologist William Jungers called them “more curiosities than game-changers for now.” And another anthropologist, Ian Tattersall, admitted that these creatures may not even be part of the genus Homo, “I’m a great advocate for the notion that the genus Homo has been made overinclusive,”

So we can see that there are many alternative explanations that are less sensational. We can reasonably dismiss the idea that these creatures are human ancestors. Whatever similarities they may share with us is trivial. Scientists notice similarities and assume that this demonstrates ancestry, but that’s not a valid assumption. All it really tells us is that certain anatomical features are a good design and help an organism survive in its environment.

Berger indicated that they’ll try to extract DNA from the fossils, and I’m looking forward to their results.

In conclusion, I believe that God created man in his image just as the Bible says, and the story of Homo naledi doesn’t do anything to change that.

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