The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has recently re-reconstructed Lucy; a famous, more ape-like human ancestor from ~3.2 million years ago. This update is based on the 2010 discovery of another Australopithecus afarensis which fills in many of the gaps in Lucy’s 43% skeleton. The other Au. afarensis (nicknamed “Big Man”, as in since it’s male and taller than Lucy) revealed their species had a more human-like barrel shaped ribcage and longer legs – amongst other things – than previously thought.
This is bad news for the Liverpool World Museum, where I volunteer, which had recently obtained a now-out-of-date reconstruction of Lucy. Darn.
It’s worse news for Answers in Genesis, whose main argument against Lucy being a human ancestor is that she was just another quadrupedal ape. Not only does Big Man further confirm their species walked upright like humans, but also refutes many of AiG’s arguments for why Lucy walked on all fours, like a chimp. In particular BM’s hip shows Au. afarensis had strong, functioning walking muscles (a fact AiG has previously disputed) and a human-like scapula (which they’ve also disputed).
How does AiG respond to these revelations? By doing the only sane thing left: claiming BM was a human! In their new article, “Lucy Makeover Shouts a Dangerously Deceptive Message About Our Supposed Ancestors” they write (bold added by me)
Of course, the possibility that the headless “Big Man” was neither ape nor ancestral hominid but rather a human (like perhaps Homo erectus) never enters the minds of evolutionary paleoanthropologists.
The dramatic differences between “Big Man” and “Lucy” are presumably written off to sexual dimorphism or their supposed 0.4 million year age discrepancy rather than to the fact that “Big Man” might not even be an afarensis or any kind of ape at all.
It looks like the author, Dr Mitchell, hasn’t read the scientific paper reporting Big Man’s discovery. After all, she’s talking about what she ‘presumes‘ the explanation for the differences between Lucy and BM is; rather than the actual explanation offered by BM’s discoverers. She also doesn’t cite the scientific paper reporting Big Man’s discovery and the relevant anatomical traits, a critical paper that should be present in any discussion of BM.
It would seem that the claim BM’s anatomy is distinct from Lucy’s is based on omitting the anatomy of Big Man. If the paper concering BM’s discovery and anatomy had been examined, it would’ve revealed the real reason Lucy and BM are so drastically different.
And what is the real explanation I hear you ask? Lucy and BM just aren’t that different. Most of the “differences” present in BM’s skeleton are bits that aren’t preserved in Lucy, so can’t be said to be different to her. As this colourful table I’ve prepared explains, when you compare the bits present in both Lucy and BM you find that they’re actually very, very similar.
In fact, there are only really 2 major differences between BM and other Au. afarensis specimens. Firstly, his leg are longer than Lucy’s, but then the fact a species varies in height is hardly shocking. Secondly, his shoulder blade is more human-like than Sema’s (another Au. afarensis). However Sema is a 3 year old child, and we know that the scapula changes as an individual matures. So the fact BM’s adult scapula isn’t the same is hardly a “dramatic difference”.
Nonetheless, Dr Mitchell is determined to play up how different Big Man is from other Australopiths, so brings up the scapula difference (conveniently forgetting to mention the age of Selam). Bold added by me, again.
Despite the 2012 report of another afarensis fossil (named “Selam”) with a shoulder blade adapted for arboreal life, the more human-like “Big Man” offers more “scope for imagination” to the evolutionary story and to the Cleveland museum’s new fleshed-out, slim-and-trim Lucy.
Now here is where AiG really irritates me. You see that quote I’ve highlighted in bold. Now based on it’s context you might be led to think that it comes from someone related to Big Man’s discovery or his reconstruction. This might lead you to think that there’s some imagination used and the reconstruction isn’t scientifically accurate (something AiG have said about other reconstructions).
In fact, that quote comes from a novel published in 1908! The full quote, if you’re interested, goes like this
Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?
So if you’d been led to think that this quote is connected to the reconstruction and thus raises questions about it’s validity, you’d be dead wrong. It’s about as unrelated as possible and I think it’s a deplorable move by AiG to try and associate it (and its negative implications) with the new Lucy.
But that show just how desperate they are. Their arguments that Lucy was a quadruped (weak as they are) have been thoroughly debunked by Big Man. The only out for AiG – aside from admitting that Au. afarensis is one of those “transitional forms” they say doesn’t exist – is the absurd claim BM and Lucy are different species. This claim is so weak it can only be supported by completely ignoring the paper discussing the anatomical characteristics of BM and poisoning the well with unrelated quotes.