Homo naledi: Geology of a Claimed Missing Link
by Tim Clarey, Ph.D. *
Recent claims of a transitional species named Homo naledi have the anthropologic world in an uproar.1-3 National Geographic used this recent discovery as this month's cover story, and NOVA recently broadcast a television special, showcasing the finding for the world.3 The new fossil "species" is said to be a human-like ancestor that neatly fills the gap between the Australopithecus and our own genus Homo.1,3 This seemingly fits the human evolution story promulgated since the 19th century, but what are these bones really?
Three important questions must be answered before we can reach a conclusion: First, is the claimed hominin a newly discovered transitional species between man and ape? Second, what is the actual age of these fossils? And finally, how did the fossils get deep inside the cave? All of these questions have implications for the Christian community no matter what side of the issue they favor.
The fossil discovery, made in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa in 2013, is located in a remote section of the cave called Dinaledi Chamber. To reach this chamber, the scientists had to travel through two thin passageways, one less than 10 inches high.3 These caves developed in part of the Malmani Subgroup, a dolomite (limestone-like) rock unit most likely deposited before Noah's Flood. Secular scientists date the cave system in the rocks as developing during the Pliocene-Pleistocene, assigning ages as high as 3 million years.2 However, creation scientists interpret caves like these as forming either during the receding water phase of the Flood or right after the Flood, making the caves only thousands of years old.
Approximately 1,550 scattered hominin bone pieces, claimed to represent at least 15 individuals, were recovered from the clay-rich sediment of the cave floor. This fossil assemblage included infants, juveniles, adults, and mature adults. The secular scientists claimed that all these fragments are from a single, new species they named Homo naledi.1 Interestingly, the cave had also been entered by a previous caving group who rearranged some of the bones on the cave floor.2
What exactly is Homo naledi? Berger, the lead researcher, and his colleagues claimed that the bones all fit one new transitional, or "mosaic," species.1 A transitional species should show partly evolved, in-between features of the two species it supposedly bridges. No fossil evidence for an undisputed transitional species exists anywhere for any kind of creature. A supposed mosaic species has features resembling unrelated kinds, but are all somehow integrated. Homo naledi's feet, legs, and hands were nearly human, and yet the pelvis and shoulders were more like Australopithecus—an extinct ape. Steve Churchill from Duke University told National Geographic, "If you'd found the foot by itself, you'd think some Bushman had died."3 Berger and his staff even claimed to identify females and males, based on differences in the sizes of the bones.
Also, the cranium pieces didn't seem to fit the jaws. Despite what artistic depictions show, no substantially complete skulls were found with jaw and cranium attached. Instead, they found "tiny little brains stuck on these bodies that weren't tiny," as Fred Grine, paleoanthropologist, noted.3 All of these unusual sizes and mixtures of human and ape-like traits indicate that the bones may not even match. Presumed males and females may have come from different species. Could these paleontologists have fabricated a new species by cobbling together parts from unrelated kinds? Did they use the imaginings of their expectations to drive them to put the pieces together? If so, it wouldn't be the first time.4
However, what made this discovery unusual was the relatively loose and un-cemented sediment in which the bones were found. All of the bones were found in the upper 20 cm (8 inches) of cave-filling, floor sediment.2 One recent geological report said, "Hominin remains in the area are generally encased in lithified clastic sediments [weathered debris cemented together] in caves that are situated in stromatolite-rich [fossil algae mats] dolomite of the Malmani Subgroup."2 In other words, hardened sedimentary rocks encase most of these fossils, including Lee Berger's 2008 discovery of Australopithecus sediba only 10 miles away. That ape-like fossil was dated by secular scientists as two million years old.3,5 Finding these "naledi" fossils in un-cemented loose sediment implies these fossils may be far more recently deposited than most other finds, opening up the possibility they date to the post-Flood Ice Age and making Homo naledi only about 4,000 years old!
The next article on this topic will examine inconsistencies with evolutionary age assignments.
- Berger, L. R., et al. Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa. eLife. Posted on elifesciences.org September 10, 2015, accessed October 1, 2015.
- Dirks, P.H.G.M. et al. Geological and taphonomic context for the hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa. eLife. Posted on elifesciences.org September 10, 2015, accessed October 1, 2015.
- Shreeve, J. 2015. Mystery man: A trove of fossils found deep in a South African cave adds a baffling new branch to the human family tree. National Geographic. 228(4): 30-57.
- Gish, D. 1975. Man...Apes...Australopithecines...Each Uniquely Different. Acts & Facts. 4 (9).
- Although secular science interprets these bones as 2 million years old, they were likely deposited late in the Flood year, making them about 4,500 years old.
Image credit: Copyright © 2015 National Geographic Society. Art by S. Fichtel. Sources: L. Berger and P. Schmid University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; J. Hawks, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Adapted for use in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holder.
*Dr. Clarey is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and received his Ph.D. in geology from Western Michigan University.
Article posted on October 15, 2015.