1. ScienceNOW: “Tempest in a Hobbit Tooth”

One of the Indonesian “hobbit” fossils said to be a unique species of human from 18,000 years ago may have dropped by the dentist for a filling last century, reports ScienceNOW’s Elizabeth Culotta.

The issue was raised recently by paleopathologist Maciej Henneberg of Australia’s University of Adelaide, who based his question of photos of the hobbit coded LB1. Hobbits, formally dubbed Homo floresiensis, have been the center of attention and debate since their discovery was announced in 2004. Found in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, the hobbit remains show hominids with skeletal differences from modern humans. They stood only three feet tall and had a cranial capacity about as large as a grapefruit. Even so, the hobbits were found with tools, and around them was found evidence of the use of fire and hunting.

The evidence has given rise to two major interpretations of what the hobbits really were. One group holds on to the idea that the hobbits were a separate species of human (hence the name Homo floresiensis); the other group less sensationally suggests that the hobbit size and skeletal anomalies were caused by genetic reasons, malnutrition, or microcephaly. (For a recent in-depth update on the debate, see The Return of the Hobbits.)

As for the latest speculation, in 2005, Henneberg and other scientists had a chance to conduct a cursory examination of the LB1 skull. They used the brief time to photograph LB1’s jaws for later reference, and it is these photographs that triggered a question in Henneberg’s mind: what was the reason for the odd appearance of the lower first molar, which had—as ScienceNOW explains—“a high ridge of enamel next to a scooped-out white area”? Henneberg’s conclusion: dentists working on the Indonesian island in the 1930s may have filled a cavity with a whitish cement (rather than a modern metal amalgam).

Of course, Henneberg’s conclusion clashes with “conventional” wisdom on the hobbits for one major reason: most anthropologists have dated these hobbits to 18,000 years ago! However, because Henneberg’s group has been denied access to the bones (even though “minutes” with the LB1 skull could have answered the question, says Henneberg), he cannot confirm or disprove his hypothesis.

Others dispute the 20th-century hobbit notion, including dental anthropologist Shara Bailey of New York University, who examined LB1 in detail and rejects the filled-cavity explanation for the dental anomaly. She admits, however, that she “was struck by the opacity and whiteness of the dentine.” The University of Adelaide’s Peter Brown, who was part of the team that originally reported on the hobbit, suggests the filling appearance may be explained by the chalky limestone the hobbit was found in and believes computed tomography scans support his counter-claim.

Whether or not Henneberg’s speculation proves to be correct (if he ever has the opportunity to test his hypothesis), it’s important to remember that there are several explanations for what caused these hobbits’ small size and skeletal abnormalities. But the use of fire, tools, and hunting are clear indications that they were intelligent humans descended from Adam through Noah. It is possible that, like Neanderthals and the so-called Homo erectus, the genetic information that coded for these hobbits’ skeletons has likely been lost or diluted over time. Or it’s possible that the hobbits’ condition was related to disease, as has been speculated.

Either way, the story of all humans, modern and supposedly “ancient,” can be found starting in Genesis, where we learn that Adam and Eve were created to bear God’s image. Genetic diversity has led to humans of various sizes, proportions, skeletal shapes, shades of skin color, eye color, and more, but each of us carries the image of God and stands in need of Jesus Christ as a savior.

2. BBC News: “Device ‘Spins Silk Like Spiders’”

Another of God’s creative designs has inspired human technology—a device that attempts to replicate a spider’s production of silk.

A German team, writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, describes their design for a device that mimics the silk-producing process of spiders. The team speculates that the device could produce fibers for tough, lightweight materials (for use in, e.g., medical equipment)—fibers that are, weight for weight, five times stronger than steel.

Spiders naturally secrete their silk as water-soluble proteins forced through an anatomical feature called a spinneret. But until now—and “despite years of research,” the BBC notes—researchers haven’t been able to replicate the process well enough to produce useful quantities of silk.

So what was the German team’s breakthrough? The team genetically engineered spider silk proteins using bacteria, then fed these silks into a glass etching that mixes them with salt solutions. The salt clumps the proteins together, then they are forced through a channel that results in a fiber.

But for the University of Oxford’s Fritz Vollrath, who holds a 2002 U.S. patent for a device similar to the German team’s, this latest breakthrough is the latest in a line of products that come up short. “It’s another important small step towards making the material. It adds a piece to the puzzle, but it’s a very big puzzle and there are many pieces missing.”

Furthermore, Oxford Biomaterials chief scientific officer David Knight notes that harvesting natural silks is still cheaper and more reliable than genetically engineering them in the lab. “[A]ll that is just a recipe for capital and energy intensivity,” he said in reference to the production processes.

Time and time again, scientists study and stand in awe of (the Creator’s) incredible designs—designs that defy human engineering and stymie our attempts to replicate them. Yet time and time again, secular scientists (and even, sadly, many “theistic” evolutionists as well) ignore the source of these incredible designs or credit them only to chance mutations shaped by the blind forces of natural selection.

For more information:

3. National Geographic News: “Ancient Maya Tomb Yields ‘Amazing’ Fabrics”

Ancient textiles found in a tomb in Central America “rival modern textiles in their complexity and quality,” reports National Geographic News.

The tomb, in modern-day Honduras, belonged to a Mayan queen who was buried in the fifth century A.D. A team led by University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Robert Sharer discovered the tomb, and the fabrics were analyzed by University of Rhode Island textile expert Margaret Ordonez.

Ordonez reported that some of the fabrics included thread counts of more than 80 weft yarns per inch—a higher thread count than today’s denim jeans. Other samples contained “as many as 25 layers of fabric, stacked atop one another and fused together over time.”

Also of note is Ordonez’s surprise that the cloth has lasted 1,500 years. “We’re talking about a humid climate, and to have fragments of fabric exist in the tomb for that long is just amazing.”

The fabrics “retained hints of glorious hues,” from bright red to deep black, and were made from such materials as cotton, grass, leaves, and tree bark. “The high quality of the weaving suggests it was a very time-consuming task,” adds Ordonez, though it is not entirely clear how the Maya wove the fabrics.

Ordonez’s work, which is being prepared for publication, was backed by the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies.

Once again, we see modern scientists impressed and even puzzled by the technical skills of humans who lived a thousand years ago or more. But contrary to the evolutionary presentation of humans as moving from unintelligent, primitive brutes to today’s more intelligent population, the Bible, in Genesis, tells of great feats of human engineering—Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel—that required extensive engineering technology. After Babel, as humans dispersed (likely through the Bering Strait in the case of the ancestors of the Maya), they went on to build marvels of architecture and engineering that still amaze us today. But should this puzzle us? Not at all—rather, it should remind us of the ingenuity of our ancestors and the starting point of humanity—in intelligent Adam and Eve, made in the image of God.

4. National Geographic News: “Neandertals Ate Their Veggies, Tooth Study Shows”

A study of dental plaque has shown that the Neanderthal diet was at least partially botanical, reports National Geographic News.

The dental plaque was recovered from the teeth of a Neanderthal skeleton found in Iraq and adds to our picture of what Neanderthals ate. In the case of this Neanderthal, who is known as Shanidar III because of the cave he was found in, the plaque contained microfossils of plant material.

The research was led by graduate paleobiology student Amanda Henry of George Washington University, who reported the findings in a Paleoanthropology Society meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

“It seems logical to me that they took advantage of any food sources they had available in their environments, which would vary from place to place and from time to time,” explained Henry. This is the first definite evidence of variety in their diet, adding to previous evidence of carnivory (such as animal remains at Neanderthal sites).

Previously, elevated levels of pollen grains in the soil near where Shanidar III was found had been ascribed to plant consumption by Neanderthals or even to the possibility of flowery burial of Neanderthals.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Neanderthal diets would be similar to other humans because Neanderthals were just as human as anyone living in ancient times! They lived in groups, buried their dead, wielded fire, hunted, left artwork, and more—all distinctly human. Neanderthals have only been shown to differ from other humans (which we think of as “modern”) through skeletal differences and differences in pigmentation, yet even so, a Neanderthal dressed in modern clothing and comparatively groomed would be hardly distinguishable from a non-Neanderthal human. (See this University of Zürich web page for a detailed reconstruction of a Neanderthal child’s face.)

Furthermore, genome researchers have suggested that people of European descent may contain Neanderthal genetic information (see Are Europeans Neandertal?). Like the hobbits of item #1 and the Maya of item #3 above, the evidence corroborates the Bible’s account in Genesis—all of humankind, no matter the specific physical characteristics, descended from Adam and Eve through Noah. The genetic information present in modern humanity was present in the Ark in Noah’s three sons and their wives, and through the dispersion at Babel, and in the generations that followed, people of various characteristics lived and died—all of them human. To suggest that humans living today are “better” than those of the past (Neanderthals or hobbits, for example) feeds straight into the evolutionary worldview that deems certain humans more highly evolved than others. No wonder the sad tale of Ota Benga.

5. AP: “Museums Make Science Education Fun for Kids”

An Associated Press article describes an upcoming National Academies report that will detail how science is learned in informal settings—museums, zoos, and aquariums—and, consequently, how such venues can better educate children.

The Associated Press’s Malcolm Ritter writes, “The report comes as experts bemoan a lack of scientific education and literacy among Americans” and suggests that Americans are struggling to “grasp complex public issues like stem cell research.”

Ritter’s story includes comments from the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, Gerry Wheeler, who says of museums, “They’re very useful . . . a valuable resource for making nature real to the young, hungry mind.” Ritter later adds, “[M]uch of the value of museums is about sparking interest and motivation toward science . . . kids may get hooked on dinosaurs or outer space at a museum, and then go study up on their own.”

We at Answers in Genesis agree that science education is vital, and we also recognize the impact museums have on people’s minds—young minds, especially. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of science and natural history museums contain some form of evolutionary/anti-biblical indoctrination somewhere. Even a museum that does not mention Darwinian evolution may talk about the age of the earth or the origin of the solar system, and human history museums stretch a few thousand years of human data into tens of thousands of years or more.

Our goal at Answers in Genesis has never been to censor such information, but rather to demonstrate how the true history given in the Bible—including natural history and human history—explains origins and can give rise to just as much interest in science and engineering or more. When children understand that nature all around them is God’s creation that has been corrupted by sin, and when youth recognize that evolution cannot account for the incredible designs we see, they are prompted to learn and explore. Furthermore, they become equipped with the tools they need to understand the problems in molecules-to-man evolution and other secular origins stories.

Don’t ignore the effect field trips to science museums can have on your child’s mind. Augment their interest in science and be sure to tell them “the rest of the story”—the Bible’s story that they almost surely won’t hear in a public school science class. We have an entire section of our website filled with free education resources, and we encourage anyone who is able to bring their children and visit our high-tech Creation Museum near Cincinnati. We’re confident you and your children will walk away with an even stronger interest in learning about God’s creation!

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