pseudoscience and fossils

Elaine Morgan (
Sun, 1 Jan 1995 14:57:07 +0000

Two fallacies seem to be floating around. First, that
evidence from comparative anatomy is more pseudo than
fossil evidence. The two are equally valid and should
complement one another. The discovery that whales descended
from land mammals was made purely on anatomic evidence,
but nobody dismisses it as a Just So Story.

Second, that fossil evidence refutes AAT. In fact it is
savannah theory that lacks hard evidence. After the ape/
hominid split and the fossil gap we get first A. ramidus
from the sediments of a soggy forest. Later Lucy, whose bones
were eroding from sand among crocodile and turtle eggs
and crab claws. Virtually all the Rift Valley hominids died
at the water's edge - lakesides, riversides, flood plains.
Savannah theory readily explains this by saying none of the
non-waterside hominids' bones survived. Richard Klein wrote
in "The Human Career": "The specific site locations reflect
the occurrence of sedimentary traps with good conditions
for bone preservation..(but)..both the australopithecines
and early Homo surely ranged far more widely within tropical
and subtropical Africa, into areas where fossil sites have not
been found or may not exist."
That is a plausible suggestion, impossible to
disprove, but it is only a speculation. The hard fossil
evidence is that of bones sinking into mud and silt.
Laetoli is an exception. Sediments there are
airborne, not waterborne. But the area of the famous
hominid footprints also bore footprints made at the same
time by an untypically varied assemblage of other creatures,
suggesting that some at least (possibly including the bipeds)
were transients fleeing the fallout from the successive
eruptions of the volcano Sadiman which preserved the prints.
The South African sites are different and more recent,
from a time when savannah conditions had become established.
If ramidus and afarensis had been discovered before the
Taung baby instead of decades later, it is certain that the
savannah explanation of ape/human divergence would never
have got off the ground. Only academic inertia keeps it extant.
It is time they switched off the life support system.
( BTW P. Vincent, you guessed right. I did meet Douglas
Adams in Oxford, and he was the one who first told me about
demon and the Internet.)

Elaine Morgan