When we consider fossil and bone remains we must always take climate into account. Not only present climate but past climate because climates changes. Fossil remains found in places like Africa tend to be rather well preserved due to the climate conditions there. However, fossil remains in tropical regions tend to not be so well preserved and, in fact, we find fewer fossils in such climates. Tropical conditions wreck havoc on fossils.
With this in mind let us consider when the search for human evolution and origins began. Before the Replacement Theory was popularized there was another theory and another place of searching other than Africa. The Replacement Theory is also known as the Out of Africa Theory and it basically holds that ancient human ancestors migrated out of Africa and eventually populated the world replacing more archaic human species with Homo sapiens becoming the only surviving hominin species on the planet. Honestly, I have to admit this sounds a bit too fantastical to me! As I’ve pointed out in past posts here I see features of other hominin species in modern humans today and I personally think that our ancient human ancestors never did go extinct nor were they replaced but, rather, I think there was a lot of interbreeding between hominin species. I guess a more accurate term in my mind other than “replacement” would be “assimilation.”
Prior to the move to Africa in search of human origins that search was located in Southeast Asia. Researchers at the time were looking for the “missing link” in the tropical regions of southeast Asia more than they were in Africa because it was thought at that time that our origins originated in SE Asia not Africa. The search for the “missing link” was on and it was HOT! We just had to find that hominin that proved a link between modern humans and our ape ancestors! And then something happened….
Suddenly, out of the UK came a new discovery and it was termed as Piltdown Man! Oh the fossil remains seemed to have all of the features and quirks that researchers were looking for showing a hominin species hald modern human and half ape-man! The discovery was FANTASTIC! In fact, the discovery was a bit too fantastic!! Nothing was left to question or speculation! Everything was there in Piltdown Man proving EXACTLY what early Paleontologists were expecting in such a “missing link.” And then something else happened………..
After a long ride at the top Piltdown Man suddenly was knocked off his evolutionary throne! For, it was revealed that Piltdown Man was nothing more than a LIE AND HOAX! There never was a “missing link” named Piltdown Man but this discovery was taken so seriously and for so long that it left its legacy on paleontology for decades and after it was revealed to be a hoax its legacy left egg on the face of paleontology for a long time. In fact some of that egg is still there today.
About the ONLY thing good that came out of the Piltdown Man hoax was that anthropologists learned not to be so quick to jump the gun. In fact, they went to the opposite end of the spectrum from welcomed acceptance to what we have today which is blatant skepticism on any and all new discoveries and/or theories. We are still smarting from the insult handed us by the Piltdown HOAX! We ended up looking like absolute fools back then and we’ve never forgotten it. So now we meet everything with skepticism and let us not forget there were other hoaxes since Piltdown Man as well. And just to set the record straight not only were there outright hoaxes after Piltdown Man but there were also some very BIG mistakes made in paleontology concerning human origins.
Nebraska Man was discovered in the US in the State of Nebraska by rancher and geologist Harold Cook. He had found a tooth in 1917 and he informed Dr Henry Fairfield Osborn of the find in a letter in 1922. Osborn was a noted Paleontologist of the time and President of the American Museum of Natural History. This was about 10 years after the Piltdown hoax began. Although the discovery of Nebraska Man wasn’t necessarily a hoax it was proven to be a mistake in classification! In 1922 Dr Osborn received the tooth from Cook and he began to examine it closely. He and his colleagues concluded that the tooth belonged to an anthropoid ape (simian) and their conclusion was peer reviewed and supported. The conclusion also was that the tooth not only belonged to a simian but that the anthropoid ape was more closely related to humans than to other known apes! A few months later the journal Science published an article about the find and Osborn’s conclusions. It was fantastic! A manlike ape had finally been discovered in North America and this discovery coming on the heals of Piltdown Man’s discovery was WONDERFUL! Why it even started to look like human origins might have began in the UK or North America and not Asia or Africa at all.
However, the majority of scientists at the time weren’t buy Nebraska Man and the illustrations of it were a bit too fantastic. Piltdown Man was king! Nebraska Man was deemed an usurper to the throne by many! The tooth continued to be examined by other paleontologists and all along the way Osborn and company maintained that Nebraska Man was real and was an ape-man, a MISSING LINK found in America! More field work was conducted in the area where the tooth had been found in 1917 by Cook and in 1925-26 parts of Nebraska Man’s skeleton were discovered, or so it was thought. Discovery of A skeleton revealed that the tooth had been misidentified by Osborn and company and it was revealed that the tooth belonged NEITHER man or ape. In fact, the tooth had belonged to an extinct species of Peccary known as Prosthennops serus! The tooth was severely weathered when it was found and this fact helped Osborn save face a bit. So, the fantastic “missing link” known as Nebraska Man all fell apart rather suddenly and ungracefully as the journal Science published another big article exposing the “misidentification.”
New discoveries were being made in Africa and what paleontologists were finding there were the fossil remains of Australopithecines, the REAL APE-MEN. Finding hominin fossils in SE Asia became more and more difficult as not really anything was being found but in Africa it was a different story. Suddenly, it appeared that the missing links were being found there and attention was turned away from SE Asia and towards Africa where it has been ever since including today!
Today everything is linked to coming out of Africa in terms of human evolution. The Replacement Theory is the dominant theory and the alternative theory, Multi-regional Theory, is a minority theory. So what’s the Multi-regional Theory?
The Multi-regional theory is also known as the Polycentric Theory. It gives an alternative hypothesis for the Replacement/Out of Africa Theory of human origins. It holds the view that the human species arose around 2 million years ago and that human evolution has actually been within a single, continuous human species. This species encompasses all archaic human forms such as H. erectus and the Neanderthals. It also includes the modern human form known as H. sapiens. It allows for genetic drift, gene flow, and natural selection as explanations for species variations. However, it holds that there were regional differences in morphological features of ancient humans. Fossils and genomic data along with the continuity we see in cultures are noted as support for this alternative theory on human origins. So, basically, according to this model human evolution was taking place in other places outside of Africa and at different paces and times. This minority theory is sometimes used to explain hominin fossils found in China and SE Asia as well as Australasia. Under this theory there was no one place of human origins but multiple places.
So, at one time scientists were looking in SE Asia for human origins and missing links. Then along came the Piltdown Man hoax and other hoaxes and misidentifications leaving egg on the face of anthropologists. Along the way significant discoveries were being unearthed in Africa and suddenly the focus was on Africa and not on SE Asia as paleontologist turned from being accepting to being very skeptical and resistant to anything that didn’t fit into the Out of Africa model.
Ancient human ancestor fossil remains are still being found in China and SE Asia today although they are few and far between and mostly that is due to environmental conditions there that are NOT conducive to fossil formation or bone preservation (most ancient human remains are not fossils btw). So what am I saying?
What I’m saying is that Paleontology has a tendency to go from one extreme to the other and/or sometimes it goes a bit overboard. We’ve turned our focus towards Africa and for the most part we’ve ignored finds in SE Asia, China, Australia, etc. Why can’t we have BOTH? Why can’t the focus be on both regions? Do we fear proving the multiregional theory correct and the fall of the Out of Africa Theory? If so, then is that true science? Afterall, science is SUPPOSE to follow the evidence WHEREVER that evidence leads and if the evidence proves one theory and discredits a long standing theory then SO BE IT! Even Louis Leakey himself thought that Africa was NOT the only place of human origins! That’s why he went searching for ancient human ancestor remains in the Calico Hills of California! It’s time to end the polarization and get to some REAL science that follows the EVIDENCE and we should all be brave enough to follow that evidence WHEREVER it might lead us! So let’s get on with it already………..