Feature Article - September 2019
by Do-While Jones

The Woranso-Mille Skull (MRD-VP-1/1)

Is it really Australopithecus anamensis?

The headlines said, “We've finally found a skull from one of our most important ancestors,” 1 and “A 3.8 million-year-old skull reveals the face of Lucy’s possible ancestors;” 2 but it was the same old story. It begins with the admission that there aren’t enough fossils to prove human evolution, which is the excuse for why their previous explanation was wrong. Despite the fact that they have always been wrong in the past, they think we should believe they are right this time. So, here we go again!

For the first time, a partial skull belonging to one of our most important ancestral species has been found in Africa. The skull sheds light on a crucial stage of our evolution.

The skull was discovered in 2016. Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio and his colleagues were excavating in the Woranso-Mille area of Ethiopia.

The skull seems to have belonged to a male. Given how badly his teeth were worn, he was probably old when he died. Based on the ages of the surrounding rocks, he lived 3.8 million years ago.

“It’s a great find,” says Fred Spoor of the Natural History Museum in London, UK.

The team has now identified it as an Australopithecus anamensis. 3

Australopithecus anamensis

To understand how this skull was identified as belonging to Australopithecus anamensis, you need to know the back-story, which can be found on the Smithsonian Institute website.

Australopithecus anamensis

Where Lived: Eastern Africa (Lake Turkana, Kenya and Middle Awash, Ethiopia)

When Lived: About 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago

Australopithecus anamensis has a combination of traits found in both apes and humans. The upper end of the tibia (shin bone) shows an expanded area of bone and a human-like orientation of the ankle joint, indicative of regular bipedal walking (support of body weight on one leg at the time). Long forearms and features of the wrist bones suggest these individuals probably climbed trees as well.

Year of Discovery: 1995

History of Discovery: In 1965, a research team led by Bryan Patterson from Harvard University discovered a single arm bone (KNM-KP 271) of an early human at the site of Kanapoi in northern Kenya. But without additional human fossils, Patterson could not confidently identify the species to which it belonged. In 1994, a research team led by paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey found numerous teeth and fragments of bone at the same site. Leakey and her colleagues determined that the fossils were those of a very primitive hominin and they named a new species called Australopithecus anamensis (‘anam’ means ‘lake’ in the Turkana lanaguage). Researchers have since found other Au. anamensis fossils at nearby sites (including Allia Bay), all of which date between about 4.2 million and 3.9 million years old. 4

This is KNM-KP 271:

Left Distal Humerus, KNM-KP 271 5

KNM-KP 271 is the “type fossil” of Australopithecus anamensis. That means it is the reference fossil to which all subsequently discovered fossils are compared when classifying the newly discovered fossils. If it isn’t clear to you that KNM-KP 271 is a missing link, you are seriously lacking in gullibility. You need to have your brain washed some more!

Meave Leakey does not lack gullibility. When she discovered some teeth and jaws “at nearby sites”, she realized they had so much in common with KNM-KP 271, they just had to have come from the same species! You can buy a set of museum-quality replicas of KNM-KP 271 and the Leakey fossils from BoneClones.com 6 for $395 and see for yourself that they obviously go together.

As you can clearly see below, the Woranso-Mille skull, MRD-VP-1/1, clearly goes with the Left Distal Humerus, KNM-KP 271, so it must be the skull of Australopithecus anamensis.

Woranso-Mille skull, MRD-VP-1/1 7

To be fair (and we are always fair) it isn’t just the striking physical similarity that this newly discovered skull has to KNM-KP 271 that is convincing evidence for Australopithecus anamensis. They were both found in 4 million-year-old dirt, so they must have come from the same species!

We already knew quite a lot about anamensis,” says team member Stephanie Melillo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “But we didn’t have a cranium.” 8

Yes, quite a lot was known about anamensis from those few fossils. We know how it walked; what it ate; what kind of trees it climbed; what its favorite football team was—all this was already known. They just needed a skull to see how ugly it was! Wouldn’t you know it? The facial reconstruction of the skull 9 looks just like an ape-man should look! That proves its great grandfather must have been an ape, and its great grandson had to be human.

Anagenesis

Is this evidence for anagenesis? Anagenesis is gradual evolution that happens all of a sudden.

Many believe this happened by anagenesis. “That’s when one species is evolving and gradually wholesale turns into another species,” says Melillo. “You just see some trends in time, and all of a sudden there’s no more of the ancestral species and we only find the descendant species.” The transition from A. anamensis to A. afarensis has been “one of the strongest cases for anagenesis in the fossil record”, she says. 10

However,

The team compared the new A. anamensis skull to those of other hominins, plus gorillas and chimpanzees. They concluded that a partial frontal bone from 3.9 million years ago, which has been hard to identify, is actually an A. afarensis. Since this is older than the A. anamensis skull, the older species cannot have gradually transformed into the younger. Instead, they say, the A. anamensis population must have split in two, with one half giving rise to A. afarensis and the other hanging on as A. anamensis for at least 100,000 years.

Anthropologists are conflicted on this point. Spoor says that this suggestion is probably right, but that the evidence against anagenesis is not yet conclusive.

The issue is that we cannot be sure that the older bone is from A. afarensis. “It’s really hard to make a strong claim that that fragmentary specimen belongs to afarensis and not anamensis itself,” says William Kimbel of Arizona State University in Tempe, who has argued for anagenesis. We only have one A. anamensis skull to compare it to, so we have no idea how variable the species was. “That doesn’t mean they’re wrong,” he adds, but we need more fossils. 11

Evolutionists always need more fossils, because the fossils they have aren’t sufficient to prove their speculative genealogies. More fossils result in more arguments, which generate more money for research.

Real science is not ambiguous. Experiments prove the theory is true or false. Speculation is not science.

Meanwhile, the A. anamensis skull does strengthen the case that several older fossils really are hominins, and not dead-end lineages of apes as has sometimes been suggested. These include Ardipithecus ramidus, which lived about 4.4 million years ago, and Sahelanthropus tchadensis from 6 million years ago. 12

There are some reasonable anthropologists who look at the data and come to a reasonable conclusion. Specifically, they can see that the fossils look like they could have come from apes, but they don’t exactly match modern ape bones. Therefore they conclude that the fossils must represent extinct apes, and have nothing to do with human evolution.

Size Matters

What you might not realize from the specification of brain case size in cubic centimeters, or from the pictures of the skull alone, how small it is. When you see it in the hands of a person, its small size is obvious.

Paleoanthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie holds a nearly complete Australopithecus anamensis skull shortly after its discovery at an Ethiopian site. Cleveland Museum of Natural History 13

It clearly is too small to be a human skull. The worn teeth indicate it came from an older adult, not a baby. That is why it is classified as “Australopithecus” (which means, “southern ape) rather than Homo (human).

A digital reconstruction of the Woranso-Mille skull helped to establish its species. The braincase displays features, such as a long, narrow shape and a roughly chimpanzee-sized brain, similar to those of even older proposed hominids such as Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Ardipithecus ramidus (SN: 2/16/11). In contrast, forward-projecting cheek bones recall those of later hominids, such as 2.5-million-year-old Paranthropus aethiopicus. That species belonged to an African line of big-jawed, small-brained creatures that died out around 1 million years ago. It’s hard to know whether these shared traits evolved independently, or if the traits signal an evolutionary relationship. 14

Of course, the other possibility is that there is no evolutionary relationship at all. These differences could be because none of these individuals had a common ancestor—but that’s unthinkable for smart people who can’t think.

Nature Says …

All of the quotations so far have come from supermarket science tabloids reporting on two research papers published in the prestigious professional journal, Nature. One paper describes the dirt in which the skull was discovered, and how they determined the age of the dirt. The second paper describes the skull itself.

Digging Up Old Dirt

The first paper describes the several methods they used to date the dirt. The primary method was to compare the amount of argon that was produced by the decay of potassium to the amount of argon that wasn’t. The older the rock is, the more potassium-produced argon there will be. That method is totally bogus because it depends entirely upon guesses as to how much potassium and different isotopes of argon were in the rock to begin with. When it gave results which didn’t make sense stratigraphically, they came up with an excuse.

The 40Ar/39Ar dating experiments involved single-crystal laser incremental heating of individual phenocrysts. In total, 10 out of 13 incremental-heating experiments from WM12/LHG-6 and all 8 experiments from WM18/LHG-1 yielded apparent-age plateaus (Extended Data Fig. 4 and Supplementary Table 3). The argon isotope data from the plateau steps were plotted on inverse-isochron 36Ar/40Ar and 39Ar/40Ar correlation diagrams (Extended Data Fig. 5), the results of which are displayed as age–probability density spectra in Extended Data Fig. 6, combining all individual crystal isochron results for each sample into a single population. The weighted-mean age of the quasi-symmetrical, quasi-Gaussian modes representing the two populations is 3.816 ± 0.021 Myr old for WM12/LHG-6 (1σ including the error in J, the neutron-fluence parameter; mean square weighted deviation (MSWD) = 1.46) and 3.786 ± 0.033 Myr old for WM18/LHG-1 (MSWD = 0.07). Although apparently inverted (the lower sample age is younger than the higher), the ages are indistinguishable given the large uncertainties due to low K [potassium] abundance in plagioclase for WM12/LHG-6 and small grain size (around 200–400 μm) for WM18/LHG-1. These results are consistent with an age of around 3.76 Myr old for the Mille tuff sequence (Fig. 2). 15

Stratigraphy (the study of layers of dirt) is a relatively straight-forward way to tell relative age. There is a stack of magazines on my desk that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. The ones on the bottom are older than the ones on the top because I keep putting new ones on top of the old ones. Layers of dirt are no different. The layers on the bottom have to be older than the layers on top because the bottom layers had to be there first. Stratigraphy can tell relative age, but can’t tell absolute age. That is, we know the lower layers are older, but we can’t tell how much older they are.

Since argon dating is bogus, it sometimes gives silly results. In this case, the lower layer came out younger than the upper layer, which is impossible. They swept it under the rug by saying that there wasn’t enough potassium (“low K abundance”) to get a good enough measurement, and both ages were inside the statistical margin of error.

They also tried magnetic dating, which is based on the foolish notion that the direction of residual magnetism in rocks is the result of idiotic (pardon me, I meant to type “periodic” ) reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field. The whole notion that the Earth’s magnetic field reverses every few million years is ridiculous. We showed that the magnetic reversals are actually the result of natural alignment with local magnetic fields in our “Paleomagnetism Busted!” article and video. 16

When the magnetic dates agreed with their argon dates, it confirmed the accuracy of the argon dates. Those samples with contradictory indications were “ambiguous” and consequently ignored.

In some specimens, the secondary component of the magnetization was not completely removed after demagnetization, and the resulting remanent directions are a mixture of normal and reverse polarities. These specimens show ambiguous directions, such as declinations towards the south, but positive inclinations or declinations towards the north with a negative inclination. We note also that sample MRD17 shows evidence of weathering with formation of new iron-rich minerals and a suspicious normal magnetization between two reverse samples. The 58 non-ambiguous specimens were selected to calculate mean normal and reverse characteristic remanent magnetizations and build a local polarity sequence correlated with the geopolarity time scale based on available 40Ar/39Ar dates (Extended Data Fig. 7). 17

They tried to date the rocks using the fossils in the rocks, but they failed.

Only 26 vertebrate specimens have been collected from MRD-VP-1 to date. They sample a variety of mammalian taxa (Supplementary Table 6), most of which are common in other eastern African hominin-bearing sites of comparable age, but do not allow conclusive palaeoenvironmental inferences. 18

Evolutionists often use the fossils found in rocks to date the rocks because they “know” when certain fossils evolved, and they “know” when they went extinct, so rocks containing those “index fossils” must be in that age range. There weren’t any index fossils they could use to date the dirt in which the skull was found.

We’ve already spent way too much space on how they dated the skull. The short summary is that they used bogus, inconclusive methods to date the skull as being 3.8 million years old.

The Skull Itself

The second article in Nature dealt with the fossil itself. Here’s how that article began:

Abstract

The cranial morphology of the earliest known hominins in the genus Australopithecus remains unclear. The oldest species in this genus (Australopithecus anamensis, specimens of which have been dated to 4.2–3.9 million years ago) is known primarily from jaws and teeth, whereas younger species (dated to 3.5–2.0 million years ago) are typically represented by multiple skulls. Here we describe a nearly complete hominin cranium from Woranso-Mille (Ethiopia) that we date to 3.8 million years ago. We assign this cranium to A. anamensis on the basis of the taxonomically and phylogenetically informative morphology of the canine, maxilla and temporal bone. This specimen thus provides the first glimpse of the entire craniofacial morphology of the earliest known members of the genus Australopithecus. We further demonstrate that A. anamensis and Australopithecus afarensis differ more than previously recognized and that these two species overlapped for at least 100,000 years—contradicting the widely accepted hypothesis of anagenesis.

Main

The absence of cranial remains of Australopithecus species that are older than 3.5 million years has limited our understanding of the evolutionary history of this genus. 19

In plain English, they said the oldest Australopithecus (southern ape) fossils were believed to be 4.2–3.9 million years old. (Those dates are bogus—but that’s what they believe.) They were referring to the set of fossils represented by the Bone Clone collection we showed you earlier in this article. They had a complete Australopithecus afarensis skeleton (nicknamed Lucy) and some other A. afarensis skulls, which they believe to be younger. The lack of a skull older than 3.5 million years “limited their understanding.” What they needed was a skull dated between A. anamensis (4.2–3.9 million years old) and A. afarensis (3.5–2.0 million years old). The Woranso-Mille skull (technically named MRD-VP-1/1, or MRD for short) was dated as being 3.8 million years old. Jackpot!

The Woranso-Mille study area, located in the Afar region of Ethiopia, has become one of the most important sites and has yielded hominin fossils from a poorly known period of the mid-Pliocene epoch. Since 2005, fieldwork at Woranso-Mille has been aimed at answering questions about mid-Pliocene hominin diversity and testing the hypothesized ancestor–descendant relationship of A. anamensis and A. afarensis. In this regard, Woranso-Mille hominin fossils have shown that more than one hominin species was present during the mid-Pliocene epoch (at least A. afarensis and an as-yet-unnamed species that is represented by the Burtele foot). Another species, Australopithecus deyiremeda, has also been named on the basis of fossils from 3.5–3.3-Myr-old deposits, even though this has been contested. The 3.8–3.6-Myr-old hominin fossils—which are mostly dentognathic [teeth]—from Woranso-Mille have also corroborated the proposed ancestor–descendant relationship between A. anamensis (4.2–3.9 Myr ago) and A. afarensis (3.7–3.0 Myr ago). Fieldwork in 2016 resulted in the recovery of a nearly complete cranium of an early hominin (Fig. 1). This cranium (MRD-VP-1/1, hereafter MRD) was dated to 3.8 Myr ago and hence comes from a critical period close to 4 Myr ago, during which the craniofacial morphology of early hominins is almost completely unknown. To our knowledge, MRD is the first specimen to shed light on the full cranial anatomy of the earliest known australopiths. Details of the discovery and preservation of the specimen are provided in Supplementary Note 1. Missing parts and minor distortions of this specimen were reconstructed digitally (Extended Data Figs. 1-5 Methods and Supplementary Notes 2-5). 20

Where portions of the left side were missing, they substituted mirror images of the right side, and vice versa. That’s legit.

The “hypothesized ancestor–descendant relationship of A. anamensis and A. afarensis” is whether A. afarensis was a mutant offspring which immediately drove A. anamensis to extinction (the anagenesis theory) or A. afarensis was a mutant offspring which lived contemporaneously with A. anamensis for a long time before going extinct. Their conclusion, stated in the abstract of the article, is “these two species overlapped for at least 100,000 years—contradicting the widely accepted hypothesis of anagenesis.”

Please forgive our skepticism, but we don’t think one skull can answer this question for the following reasons.

First, what is the proof that MRD is the skull of an anamensis? How do you know MRD isn’t the skull of Australopithecus deyiremeda, or the unnamed species represented by the Burtele foot?

Second, what if the date ranges are wrong? They used to believe anamensis went extinct 3.9 million years ago; but now they say MRD represents an anamensis which died 3.8 million years ago. Clearly, what they used to believe about the anamensis date range was wrong, so why should we believe the new date range is correct? Why should we believe the afarensis date range is correct?

Third, it is just one skull. Is that enough fossil evidence to prove anything?

Here’s why they don’t think it isn’t the skull of an afarensis.

The specimen is readily identifiable as a hominin by the following morphological features: the canine [tooth] is reduced in size compared to non-human apes and shows a strong lingual basal tubercle [a specific tooth shape]; the mastoids [sides of the skull] are inflated; the nuchal plane [space between the nostrils] is more horizontal than in non-human apes; and the inion [A small protuberance on the back of the skull near the neck], which is coincident with the opisthocranion [a specific point on the skull], lies near the level of the Frankfort horizontal plane. At the same time, the small cranial [brain] capacity, highly prognathic [protrusive jaws] face, extensive pneumatization [air-filled cavities] and other features discussed below indicate that MRD represents a hominin that is more primitive than A. afarensis. 21

The key point in this entire discussion is that MRD looks “more primitive than A. afarensis.” It is evidence of their bias that certain features are “more primitive.” That means they are using the assumption of evolution as proof that evolution happened. That’s “circular logic,” which is not a valid form of logic.

We must give them credit for recognizing individual differences (even though they feel justified in ignoring those differences).

The MRD face is particularly long supero-inferiorly. This morphology stands in stark contrast to the short and gracile face reconstructed for A. ramidus. However, comparisons of facial robusticity must consider sexual dimorphism: MRD, A.L. 444-2 and TM 266-01-60-1 probably represent male individuals, whereas the face of the A. ramidus composite represents a female. Thus some degree of difference in facial robusticity is expected. The currently available fossil sample does not permit the disentanglement of the morphological differences that are due to sexual dimorphism from those that are taxonomically diagnostic. Furthermore, it has previously been suggested that the short face of the composite reconstruction of A. ramidus is not representative of the species. The MRD face is also strongly prognathic, both in the mid-face and subnasally (Extended Data Fig. 8). The projection of the mid-face in MRD is comparable to S. tchadensis, but MRD lacks upper facial projection. 22

In light of all this, the New Scientist's claim, “We've finally found a skull from one of our most important ancestors,” is overstated (to say the least).

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Footnotes:

1 Michael Marshall, New Scientist, 28 August 2019, “We've finally found a skull from one of our most important ancestors”, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2214670-weve-finally-found-a-skull-from-one-of-our-most-important-ancestors/#ixzz5y0hAhc6Z
2 Bruce Bower, Science News, August 28, “A 3.8 million-year-old skull reveals the face of Lucy’s possible ancestors”, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/australopithecus-anamensis-skull-reveals-face-lucy-possible-ancestors
3 Michael Marshall, New Scientist, 28 August 2019, “We've finally found a skull from one of our most important ancestors”, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2214670-weve-finally-found-a-skull-from-one-of-our-most-important-ancestors/#ixzz5y0hAhc6Z
4 https://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/australopithecus-anamensis
5 http://projects.leadr.msu.edu/hominidfossils/items/show/43
6 https://boneclones.com/product/australopithecus-anamensis-KO-136-SET $395
7 B.Z. Saylor, et al., Nature, August 28, 2019, “Age and context of mid-Pliocene hominin cranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia”, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1513-8
8 Michael Marshall, New Scientist, 28 August 2019, “We've finally found a skull from one of our most important ancestors”, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2214670-weve-finally-found-a-skull-from-one-of-our-most-important-ancestors/#ixzz5y0hAhc6Z
9 ibid.
10 ibid.
11 ibid.
12 ibid.
13 Bruce Bower, Science News, August 28, “A 3.8 million-year-old skull reveals the face of Lucy’s possible ancestors”, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/australopithecus-anamensis-skull-reveals-face-lucy-possible-ancestors
14 ibid.
15 Saylor, et al., Nature, 28 August 2019, “Age and context of mid-Pliocene hominin cranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia”, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1514-7
16 Disclosure, December 2013, “Paleomagnetism Busted!”, http://www.scienceagainstevolution.info/v18i3f.htm
17 Saylor, et al., Nature, 28 August 2019, “Age and context of mid-Pliocene hominin cranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia”, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1514-7
18 ibid.
19 Yohannes Haile-Selassie, et al., Nature, 28 August 2019, “A 3.8-million-year-old hominin cranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia”, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1513-8
20 ibid.
21 ibid.
22 ibid.