Radiocarbon dating of an archaeological site in France has some researchers claiming that Neanderthals weren’t as smart as we thought. But the evidence can more easily be interpreted as both confirming Neanderthal intelligence and casting doubt on radiocarbon dating methods.
The site in question is the Grotte du Renne at Arcy-sur-Cure, a famous home of human remains and artifacts, including bones from and objects thought to have been made by Neanderthals as well as bones and objects from non-Neanderthals. The original excavation attributed the lowest levels (in the sediment) of artifacts to Neanderthals and the highest to non-Neanderthals, with the age of the youngest artifacts approximately 28,000 years old and the oldest artifacts around 45,000 years old.
Of special interest since that time, however, has been the identity of the middle layers of artifacts. The artifacts from the lowest, Neanderthal layers are generally inferior to the artifacts from the higher, (thought to be) non-Neanderthal layers. But in the middle are sophisticated tools and ornaments found alongside Neanderthal teeth. Elsewhere, similar objects have been found with Neanderthal skeletons. The evidence thus pointed to Neanderthals’ intelligence and humanity.
So what’s the problem? New York University archaeologist Randall White and a team of researchers including radiometric dating expert Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford conducted a new radiocarbon dating analysis of the location. The analysis indicates “that the archaeological layers at the site are so mixed up that ornaments and tools once attributed to Neandertals could actually be the work of modern humans, who lived in the same cave at a later date,” ScienceNOW reports. Specifically, the middle layers give the youngest radiocarbon date; the upper layers, a medium date; and the lowest layers, the oldest date.
For White, the problematic results show that the Grotte du Renne “should be disqualified from the debate over [Neandertal] symbolism,” given the layers cannot be reliably interpreted as older and younger based on their depth, with the middle layers now deemed too recent given assumptions about when Neanderthals died out. The scientists speculate that somehow the archaeological levels were mixed over time, with “artifacts made by modern humans [perhaps having] moved down into levels long thought to be associated with Neandertals,” according to ScienceNOW.
As always, the scientific evidence may be interpreted differently depending on one’s worldview. For old-earth scientists, the radiocarbon dating is effectively accepted as gospel—unchallenged, with conclusions about archaeological layers forced around the dating results. For Bible-believing youth-earth scientists, the Bible is “accepted as gospel,” so to speak, with the direct implication that Neanderthals were fully human—which comports with the archaeological evidence. What must yield, then, for young-earthers is the idea that radiocarbon isotopes are actually the reliable clocks that old-earthers assume them to be. Thus, the study either confirms one’s faith in the biblical model of humanity and casts further doubt on radiocarbon dating, or else it voids years of archaeological work in understanding our ancestors’ tool design.
The idea of caveman hunter-gatherers is an oversimplification, according to new research into the diet of some of our ancestors.
A team led by Anna Revedin of the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Early History has cast doubt on the popular idea of prehistoric “man the hunter,” reports ScienceNOW. The team’s research instead turned up evidence for human flour-making farther back in time than old-earth scientists previously believed.
The scientists studied grinding tools found at “prehistoric” human sites in Italy, Russia, and the Czech Republic. Although some scientists have hypothesized that the tools were used to grind plants for meals, an alternative explanation is that the tools were used to grind up pigment used in face painting.
But Revedin’s team uncovered starch grains on the grinding tools, strongly suggesting that they were indeed used for turning plants into flour. The flour may have then been used to make bread or soup.
Creationists can take the discovery with a grain of salt—or starch, perhaps. Because the team used controversial radiocarbon dating methods to estimate the age of the grinding tools, they are not necessarily the oldest examples we have of human food processing. The date estimated exceeds the timeline of biblical history, and we can be confident that antediluvian humans knew well how to process plants (whether they did so regularly or not); after all, we know from as far back as Genesis 3:17–19 and Genesis 4:2 that both Adam and Cain farmed the land.
Is the cane toad invading Australia the latest example of “evolution” in action?
BBC News reports on a “runaway evolutionary effect” that is helping invasive cane toads take over an ecological niche in Australia. James Cook University scientist Ben Phillips made the discovery by tracking cane toads with radio tags, letting his team determine which toads headed away from the release site most quickly.
Phillips had collected the toads from several locations in Australia: some close to the center of where cane toads had spread, and others from near the edge of cane toad territory. As it turns out, those collected from the edge traveled farthest and fastest from a release point, indicating that they carried a gene allowing them to travel quickly. Moreover, since the toads mate with toads nearby, the fast-traveling toads on the frontier perpetuate their quickness, while the slow-moving toads near the center of toad territory maintain their slower speed.
To confirm this hypothesis, Phillips bred the toads he had previously collected, then set up the same experiment with the new generation, again using radio tags. Unsurprisingly, toads whose parents were fast movers won the race.
The research is an interesting demonstration of the workings of genetics and heredity, but does it show that “evolution” is at work? The fast-moving toads have larger and stronger legs, enabling them to jump farther and faster, and hence invade the continent more quickly. But they remain cane toads; even if, at some point, these fast-moving cane toads are unable to breed with the slow-moving toads and they become separate species, the toads are not evolving into a “higher” species with increased genetic information. Rather, each population would have lost genetic information (e.g., the genes for big, strong legs in the slow-moving population and for disease and parasite resistance, as postulated in the article, for the fast-moving toads). Far from a case of evolution in action, the great toad race shows how selective forces run the opposite direction from the speculations of molecules-to-man evolution.
After previous reports of homosexual penguins, the birds seem to be an icon of aberrant sexual practice. But headlines aside, new research shows there’s relatively little to the idea of penguin homosexuality.
The study of “homosexuality” in king penguins is the first of its kind, revealing that nearly thirty percent of penguin “displays”—a courtship behavior—occur in homosexual contexts. That proportion is important because some scientists have previously suggested that penguin homosexual displays are simply due to difficulty the penguins may have in telling their male and female peers apart. But the proportion of homosexual displays is lower than what would be expected were all encounters by chance, suggesting that something else is at play.
Specifically, the researchers think high levels of testosterone or disproportionately many males in the population could be the cause; the current proportion of males to females in the penguin colony is 1.65. Males returning to the colony from the sea are also thought to carry excess testosterone.
Despite the homosexual displays, only two pairs of penguins bonded (meaning that they learned one another’s calls) homosexually, out of a total of seventy-five pairs; but all four “homosexuals” were later observed in heterosexual relationships.
The subject of homosexuality in nature has become a controversial topic because some groups have argued (implicitly or explicitly) that homosexuality in nature shows that homosexuality in humans is morally acceptable (see News to Note, May 30, 2009). This ignores both the fact that humans are held to different moral standards than animals (a consequence of our unique creation in the image of God) as well as the fact that many morally reprehensible acts occur in nature (e.g., murder) that no one endorses as okay for humans.
Only time will tell whether Keith Bennett’s “chaos theory of evolution” will catch on, but we’ll at least give his new idea a listen.
Writing in New Scientist, Queen’s University Belfast palaeoecologist Bennett points out that “[b]ecause of the way evolution works, it is impossible to predict how a given species will respond to environmental change.” He goes on,
But the neat concept of adaptation to the environment driven by natural selection, as envisaged by Darwin in On the Origin of Species and now a central feature of the theory of evolution, is too simplistic. Instead, evolution is chaotic.
Adopting the micro-/macroevolution framework, Bennett then asks, “Are these [large-scale evolutionary changes] the cumulative outcome of the same processes that drive microevolution, or does macroevolution have its own distinct processes and patterns?” That is, is the long-term evolution of molecules into man really the grand consequence of short-term selection processes plus genetic mutations and an awfully long time period? If not, what explains it, at least in the evolutionist’s mind?
Bennett examines the question by discussing what sort of changes and tribulations old-earthers believe our planet has seen in the last few million years and, narrowing in, the past twenty thousand years. If environmental changes are the impetus behind much of natural selection, then, Bennett concludes, “recent” environmental changes should have led to macroevolutionary effects. Yet “studies show that most species remain unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps longer, and across several ice ages[,] . . . show[ing] no evolution of morphological characteristics despite major environmental changes.”
Nevertheless, Bennett keeps the evolutionary faith: “That is not to say that major evolutionary change such as speciation doesn’t happen,” though he admits that “the connection between environmental change and evolutionary change is weak . . . . It is hard to see how adaptation by natural selection during lesser changes might then accumulate and lead to macroevolution.”
The problem is, in the absence of small-scale changes as the driving force behind large-scale changes, evolutionists have little else to point to as the source of evolution. Bennett seeks shelter in a “chaos theory” view of evolution in which
[m]utations occur continually, without external influence, and can be passed on to the next generation. . . . [Some of these] might cause a significant change in the offspring’s physiology or morphology . . . . Iterating these unpredictable changes over hundreds or thousands of generations will inevitably lead to evolutionary changes in addition to any that come about by the preferential survival of certain phenotypes. It follows that macroevolution may, over the longer-term, be driven largely by internally generated genetic change, not adaptation to a changing environment.
The central problem of this defense of evolution is that such long-term accumulation of genetic changes (leading to new species) has never been and can never be observed by humans, and thus it remains any entirely speculative explanation for biodiversity. Most evolutionists argue that we see examples of evolution all around us—snapshots of a greater process that works on a time-scale far longer than a human lifetime. (We reject that argument on the grounds that the “evolution” (change/adaptation) we observe around us has never been shown to produce new genetic information.) But if this view is incorrect, as Bennett argues, then what creationists call “molecules-to-man” evolution is totally unobservable, and hence something evolutionists must accept entirely on faith.
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