Charles Oxnard and australopithecines

Jim Foley (
15 Aug 1995 18:57:22 GMT

What is the general opinion on Charles Oxnard's theories on human
evolution? Here is a summing up, based on his 1975 paper "The place of
the australopithecines in human evolution: room for doubt?" (or
something like that) and a skim of his 1987 book "Fossils, teeth, and

His 1975 paper claimed that the piths were more similar to orang-utans
than they are to modern humans, based on morphometric analyses of
fossils. I think he claimed that the similarity was due to similarities
of locomotion, rather than to a close genetic relationship. He didn't
seem to deny that piths were bipedal, but was claiming that they walked
differently from us. I don't know if that last conclusion was a common
opinion in the 70's, but it seems to be fairly common nowadays; I've
often read that piths probably didn't have our striding gait.

In his 1987 book, he reaches similar conclusions: modern apes, piths and
humans all diverged at roughly the same time, and the piths are neither
our ancestors, nor even more closely related to us than modern apes. In
this book his conclusions seem to be based solely on analyses of sexual
dimorphism of teeth, rather than on post-cranial bones.

A couple of other surprising opinions: Gigantopithecus is more closely
related to us than the piths or modern apes are. And Ramapithecus and
Sivapithecus are on different branches (Rama is more closely related to
us, Siva to the orangs), even though most people have now sunk Rama into
Sivapithecus. These conclusions also are based on studies of sexual
dimorphism in teeth.

These views seem diametrically opposed to everything else I have ever
read on this subject. I'm also extremely skeptical that such
conclusions can be reached from subtle statistics on teeth measurements,
and that these measurements tell us more about phylogenies than do
comparisons of feet, leg and pelvic bones. Piths and humans look fairly
similar, based on the gross shape of these bones, and yet Oxnard says
that based on some of his measurements piths are less similar to humans
than chimps are.

Is Oxnard way out on his own with these conclusions?

Interestingly, Oxnard was a protege of, and his method of study seems to
be derived from that of, Lord Solly Zuckerman who decades ago conducted
a lone campaign to deny hominid status to the piths.

Jim (Chris) Foley,
Assoc. Prof. of Omphalic Envy Research interest:
Department of Anthropology Primitive hominids
University of Ediacara (Australopithecus creationistii)