Contrary to widespread impressions, the team of evolution researchers that came upon an apparent burial ground in a South African cave are not claiming to have discovered a direct ancestor of modern humans, pointed out staff scientists with the Answers in Genesis creation-research organization in a preliminary evaluation.
The creation scientists at the Petersburg, Kentucky-based organization, which features the Creation Museum, offered their thoughts about Homo naledi Friday as they prepared to post an article Saturday on their website .
They noted the cautious language used by the researchers in South Africa, as reported Thursday by the Associated Press. The researchers were “unable to determine an age for the fossils” and “are not claiming that naledi was a direct ancestor of modern-day people,” AP reported.
The Answers in Genesis scientists cited words in the AP reporting such as “evidently,” “suggest,” “may be,” “his guess is,” “around” and ” mysteries.”
That tentative language, they insist, exposes how little is known and how the bones are subject to interpretation.
“I am not convinced that H. naledi is human, and I don’t recognize the status of ‘near human,'” said David Menton of the Creation Museum, who holds a Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University.
AP reported the scientists in South Africa unearthed more than 1,500 bones located in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa’s Gauteng province belonging to at least 15 individuals that are yet to be dated. The cave is part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. The bones were found in a remote chamber that can only be accessed via several steep climbs and fissures.
Menton added that from what he can see from the fossils and skull reconstruction, Homo naledi “had a sloped lower face and a very robust mandible that bears little resemblance to humans.”
“It also has a small cranium. The proximal and medial phalanges of the hand are even more curved than A. afarensis, suggesting an ape-like creature,” he said.
Answers in Genesis said Menton, a longtime researcher of the so-called “ape-men,” was behind a well-known Creation Museum exhibit that rebuts the famous “Lucy” fossils purported to be in a line leading from apes to humans.
Menton cautioned that the evolutionists who announced the Homo naledi find are not stating that it is a direct ancestor of modern humans but is on a branch of the human family tree.
Answers in Genesis argued evolution scientists are not in full agreement regarding how to interpret the bones.
Tim White of the University of California-Berkeley, for example, questioned the conclusion of the researchers in South Africa, according to AP.
“From what is presented here, [the fossils] belong to a primitive Homo erectus, a species named in the 1800s,” he said.
The Creation Museum said it disagrees with White’s assessment but argues it underscores the uncertainty about Homo naledi.
Another prominent evolution scientist, Rick Potts, director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum, told AP that without a date associated with the bones, “there’s no way we can judge the evolutionary significance of this find.”
Answers in Genesis was founded by Ken Ham, who debated TV science educator Bill Nye last year at the Creation Museum in a broadcast estimated to have been seen by at least 15 million people.
More than 2.5 million people have come to the Creation Museum since it opened in 2007. A life-size Noah’s Ark is scheduled to open late next summer in Williamstown, Kentucky.