It is too early to assess with any degree of confidence the true import of recent finds by Richard Leakey near the east shore of Lake Rudolf in Kenya. Nevertheless, the impact on evolutionary theories related to the origin of man is potentially so explosive, these reports merit, even at this early date, a tentative evaluation. One newspaper report has said, "Because of him (Leakey's Skull 1470) every single book on anthropology, every article on the evolution of man, every drawing of man's family tree will have to be junked. They are apparently wrong." The article in Science News1 was headlined "Leakey's new skull changes our pedigree…."
Richard Leakey is the son of Dr. Louis Leakey. Dr. Leakey acquired world-wide fame through a series of allegedly sensational finds at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, about 500 miles south of Lake Rudolph. Dr. Leakey's principal find was a skull of a purported "ape-man", which he called Zinjanthropus, or "East Africa Man". Through a combination of hasty judgment, exaggerated claims, and wide publicity through the National Geographic, other journals, and the news media, most people, including just about all evolutionists, were convinced that Dr. Leakey had indeed found the remains of a very unique creature, one that was in man's direct line of descent about two million years ago.
A more thorough and careful evaluation of Dr. Leakey's finds by experts in the field finally revealed that Dr. Leakey's "Zinjanthropus" was nothing more than a variety of Australopithecus (as Dr. Leakey, himself, eventually admitted), an ape-like creature, the remains of which had been discovered 35 years earlier by R. A. Dart in South Africa. Dr. Leakey thus had become famous for "discovering" something that had been discovered many years earlier! Although some authorities, such as Montagu2 and von Koenigswald,3 had long maintained that the australopithecines were outside of the line of man's ancestry, the consensus of evolutionists was that the australopithecines had been habitually bipedal man-like apes in the direct line leading to man.
Richard Leakey does not hold a Ph.D. in anthropology. In fact, he has no degree of any kind. He has never been to college. Nevertheless, he spent many years working and studying with his father, and he has assembled a team that does include Ph.D. scientists. During the past few years, his research has lent powerful support to those who claimed that the australopithecines had nothing to do with the origin of man. We have already given our evaluation of the evidence related to these creatures, evidence which we believe shows conclusively that they were apes—period.4 If Richard Leakey's evaluation of his latest find, Skull 1470, is accepted, he will have succeeded not only in shattering completely his father's theories on man’s origins, in which the australopithecines were given a central role, but everyone else's, as well.
Dr. Leakey claimed that he had found two species of his "Zinjanthropus", a less evolved and more primitive form, later designated Australopithecus robustus, and a more highly developed or gracile form, designated A. africanus. Richard Leakey now claims that these were merely the male and female members of a single species, the gracile form being the female and the robustus form being the male.5,6 No evolution from primitive to advanced was involved at all.
On the basis of extremely fragmentary evidence (and of strongly preconceived ideas), the consensus of evolutionists has been that the australopithecines walked habitually upright, one of the characteristics predicted for a transitional form between man's supposed ape-like ancestor and man. Evidence produced by Richard Leakey in the past two or three years has now established strong support for the fact that the australopithecines did not walk upright, but were long-armed, short-legged knucklewalkers, similar to the extant African apes.5,7
Leakey's latest find may now have delivered the final shattering blow to the australopithecines as candidates for man's ancestor; in fact, if accepted, it will destroy all presently held theories on man's evolutionary ancestry. In his lecture last year in San Diego (which the author attended) Leakey reported that what he has found destroys all that we have ever been taught about human evolution, and, he said, "I have nothing to offer in its place!"
The heretofore generally accepted ideas on the evolution of man included a hypothetical common ancestor of man and apes, variously estimated to have existed up to 30 million years or so ago, plus little else (as far as any real fossils are concerned) until the australopithecine stage was reached, supposedly about two million years ago. Later on, it was believed, these ape-like ancestors of man were succeeded by a more man-like creature (or less apelike man!), represented in Java by Pithecanthropus erectus (Java Man), and in China by Sinanthropus pekinensis (Peking Man). These have been dated by evolutionists (purely conjecturally) at about 500,000 years, and today most evolutionists place them in a single species, designated Homo erectus. We have discussed in some detail why we believe that the only evolution that has occurred in these creatures was the evolution of the models and descriptions of the creatures by evolutionists since they were first described!4 The early descriptions of these creatures were very ape-like, but they became more man-like in succeeding reports, culminating in the models of Franz Weidenreich, which were quite man-like. Unfortunately, all of the bones disappeared during World War II, so there is no way now to confirm whether this creature was man or ape. We are convinced that, as with the australopithecines, they were simply apes.
Thus we have the picture: common ancestor of man and ape (30 my.) ® Australopithecus (ape-like man, 2 my.) ® Java Man, Peking Man (near-man, 0.5 my.) ® modern man (it is now recognized that Neanderthal Man was fully human, Homo Sapiens). That is precious little, considering a supposed evolutionary span of 30 million years and the fertile imaginations of evolutionists!
Richard Leakey now claims that his team has discovered a skull (designated KNMR 1470) much more modern than even "Peking Man", essentially the same, in fact, as that of a modern human (except in size), and yet it has been dated at nearly three million years!8,9 If Leakey's evaluation is supported, and, if the dates assigned to the australopithecines (2 million years), "Peking Man" (1/2 million years) and KNMR 1470 (3 million years) are accepted, it is obvious that neither the australopithecines nor "Peking Man" was in an ancestral line leading to man, for how could modern man, or essentially modern man, be older than his ancestors? Who ever heard of parents being younger than their children?
As reconstructed by Mrs. Richard Leakey, Dr. Bernard Wood, a London anatomist, and others, the skull is remarkable in its similarity to modern man.9 The skull wall is thin, its general conformation is human, and it is devoid of the heavy brow ridges, supra-mastoid crests, and other ape-like features found variously in the australopithecines and "Peking Man". Furthermore, a few miles away, but in the same strata, Dr. John Harris, a paleontologist attached to the National Museums of Kenya, discovered limb bones that reportedly are indistinguishable from those of modern man. They are presumably limb bones of creatures identical to 1470.
The cranial capacity of 1470 has been estimated by Leakey to be only about 800 cc. While this is greatly in excess of that reported for the australopithecines (450 - 550 cc), and, considering its alleged antiquity, it is called "large-brained", yet this is below the range for modern man (about 1000 - 2000 cc, with a mean of about 1450 cc). The age and sex of 1470 cannot be determined with certainty (first believed to be male, it is now believed to be female).
The small cranial capacity for this skull is difficult to reconcile with the fact that everything else about it is reportedly essentially indistinguishable from modern man (Dr. Alec Cave, an English anatomist, has described the skull as "typically human"10). Even the pigmy must possess a cranial capacity in excess of that reported for 1470, although an Australian aboriginal female with a cranial capacity of about 900 cc has been reported.
A recent newspaper article11 tells of an interview with Dr. Alan Mann, an anthropologist of the University of Pennsylvania who spent four weeks with Leakey in Kenya this past summer. It is reported that Mann was initially very skeptical of Leakey's reports concerning 1470, but after his experience during the summer, he became convinced that Leakey has revolutionized anthropology. He reports that Leakey has now found a second skull, and that this skull is large enough to fit over the top of 1470.
Mann, like most other evolutionists, has been left thoroughly confused by the astounding implications of Leakey's discovery. He is reported as saying, "We just don't know what happened. There's no real theories. Everybody's sort of astounded.… It just throws us back to 'go'."
What about the date assigned by Leakey to his 1470, as well as the dates assigned to "Zinjanthropus" (1-3/4 million years) and "Peking Man"? Is it legitimate for a creationist who believes in a young earth, and therefore who believes that the dating methods used to arrive at these dates are invalid, to use these same dates to invalidate evolutionary theories? Absolutely. If what Leakey reports about his 1470 is true, and if the dates assigned to this creature, to "Zinjanthropus", and to "Peking Man" are valid, then "Zinjanthropus" (and all of the australopithecines) and "Peking Man" are wiped out as man's ancestors, and evolutionists are left with nothing. On the other hand, if the age of the earth is in the nature of thousands of years rather than billions of years, then the whole concept of evolution becomes inconceivable. Thus, in either case, we are left without any evolutionary ancestors for man.
We would like to emphasize that at this point we are almost completely dependent upon the judgment of Richard Leakey and his colleagues as to the nature of his finds. At this early date, furthermore, we are limited to reports published in quasi-scientific journals and in newspapers. The importance and implications of Leakey's finds are thus predicated on reports that may not be completely reliable and data that has not yet been required to stand the scrutiny of critics. We must, therefore, view all of this with a great deal of caution. We can say at this point, nevertheless, that Leakey's latest report lends considerable support to creationists, who maintain that man and the apes have always been contemporary. It has fallen as a bombshell on the other hand, in the midst of evolutionists. Perhaps this is why, in our many discussions and debates with evolutionists during this past year or so, we have encountered no one who wanted to talk about human evolution!
Other recent developments have strengthened the creationist position. For example, Neanderthal Man used to be portrayed as a primitive sub-human creature, the immediate ancestor to Homo Sapiens. He was believed to have possessed only a semi-erect posture and to have possessed a number of other primitive features, including heavy brow ridges, lowslung neck, stooped shoulders, and bowed-legs. For many years the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago had an exhibit of a family of Neanderthal Man depicting him as a bent-over, knuckle-dragging, hairy, grunting, sub-human, peering out from under a massive brow ridge through deep-set eyes.
This picture of Neanderthal Man had been generated by the fact that the individual whose skeleton had been used for depicting this creature had suffered severely from arthritis and other pathological conditions. Even in the 19th Century this had been pointed out by Virchow, a famous anatomist. This has been confirmed more recently by Straus and Cave who reported:
"There is thus no valid reason for the assumption that the posture of Neanderthal man ... differed significantly from that of present-day men.... It may well be that the arthritic 'old man' of LChapelle-aux-Saints, the postural prototype of Neanderthal man, did actually stand and walk with something of a pathological kyphosis; but, if so, he has his counterparts in modern men similarly afflicted with spinal osteoarthritis. He cannot, in view of his manifest pathology, be used to provide us with a reliable picture of a healthy, normal Neanderthalian. Notwithstanding, if he could be reincarnated and placed in a New York subway—provided that he were bathed, shaved, and dressed in modern clothing—it is doubtful whether he would attract any more attention than some of its other denizens." 12
Even more recently, Dr. Francis Ivanhoe has claimed that the teeth of Neanderthal Man show specific evidence of rickets (caused by a Vitamin D deficiency) and that x-rays of the bones of Neanderthal Man show the characteristic rickets ring pattern.13 He further reports that every Neanderthal child skull studied so far has signs associated with severe rickets: a large head with a high, bulbous forehead, late closure of bone junctions and patches of defective bone, and poor teeth.
No wonder Neanderthal Man was some sort of a slouch! His brow ridges, bulbous forehead, sloping shoulders, bowed-legs and other "primitive" features were due to softening of his bones and other pathological conditions caused by his severe Vitamin D deficiency. Cripple him further with arthritis and you have the picture of Neanderthal Man that has graced so many textbooks for 100 years—the picture that evolutionists claimed to show that Neanderthal Man was a link between modern man and ape-like creatures.
But now this picture of Neanderthal Man has been abandoned, and today he is no longer classified Homo neanderthalensis, but he is classified Homo Sapiens, just like you and I. The Museum of Natural History in Chicago has removed its earlier models of Neanderthal Man and has replaced those with up-dated, much more modern appearing models. Thus, one by one—"Nebraska Man" (constructed on the basis of a pig's tooth!), "Piltdown Man" (built around a modern ape's jaw!), "Zinjanthropus", or "East Africa Man", "Peking Man", Neanderthal Man—our supposed ape-like ancestors have slipped away. And Richard Leakey appeals for funds to start the search all over again!
1. Science News, Vol. 102, p. 324 (1972).
2. A. Montagu, Man: His First Million Years, World Publishers, Yonkers, N.Y., 1957, p. 51.
3. G.H.R. von Koenigswald, The Evolution of Man, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1962; see also J. Hawkes review of this book, Science, Vol. 204, p. 952 (1964).
4. D.T. Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Say No!, Institute for Creation Research, San Diego, 1973.
5. R.E.F. Leakey, Nature, Vol. 231, p. 241 (1971).
6. Science News, Vol. 99, p. 398 (1971).
7. Science News, Vol. 100, p. 357 (1971).
8. Science News, Vol. 102, p. 324 (1972).
9. R.E.F. Leakey, National Geographic, Vol. 143, p. 819 (1973).
10. J. Hillaby, "Dem Ole Bones", New Scientist, December 21, 1972.
11. J.N. Shurkin (Knight Newspapers writer), The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 10, 1973, p. 6.
12. W.L. Straus, Jr., and A.J.E. Cave, The Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 1957, pp. 358, 359.
13. F. Ivanhoe, Nature, August 8, 1970 (see also Science Digest, February, 1971, p. 35; Prevention, October, 1971, p. 115).
* Biochemist Dr. Duane T. Gish is widely known as one of the most effective speakers and writers in the creationist movement today. He received his B.S. in Chemistry from U.C.L.A. in 1949 and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1953. He served on the research staff at Berkeley and at Cornell University and spent many years as research biochemist for The Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Creation Research Society and has written many papers on creationism, as well as two ICR books: Evolution? The Fossils Say NO! and Speculations and Experiments on the Origin of Life: A Critique. At time of publication, Dr. Gish was Professor of Natural Science at Christian Heritage College and Associate Director of the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Gish, D. 1974. Richard Leakey’s Skull 1470. Acts & Facts. 3 (2).