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Java Man

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Java man model, 1922.
Java man illustration, 1922.

Java Man is the common name for human fossils that have been put forth as an evolutionary transitional form between apes and humans. Named after Java island where it was discovered in Indonesia, Java Man was the first fossil evidence to be discovered of what is now called Homo erectus. It is arguably the best-known human fossil, and was the evidence that first convinced many people that humans evolved from age-like ancestors.[1] It was found in Trinil, Java in 1891 by Eugene Dubois[2] who was a former student of Ernst Haeckel. Dubois named the find Pithecanthropus erectus (erect ape-man).[3] Since its discovery, there has been much controversy over both the identification and dating of the strata where the fossils were found, and whether the fossils belonged to the same species.

Contents

Discovery

Ernst Haeckel (Dubois's former professor) believed humans had evolved from ape-like ancestors somewhere in Africa or East Asia. Prior to any physical evidence, he commissioned a painting of his hypothetical missing link, which he named Pithecanthropus alalus (ape-man without speech). Dubois was intent on finding the missing link his mentor had envisioned, and was the first person to deliberately search for human evolutionary ancestors.[4]

Original fossils of Pithecanthropus erectus (now Homo erectus) found in Java in 1891.

In 1887, Dubois signed up as a doctor with the Dutch medical corps in the Dutch East Indies (now called Indonesia) with the intention of hunting for fossils during his spare time. He was then granted permission to search for human fossils and was given 50 forced laborers and assigned 2 corporals from the engineering corps for supervisors. After several years of searching without significance, they dug up a tooth and skullcap on the banks of the Solo River on Java island (an island of Indonesia).[5] The skullcap was ape-like having a low forehead and large eyebrow ridges. The following year and about forty feet away, the workmen uncovered a thigh bone that was clearly human. Due to the close proximity of the find, Dubois assumed they belonged to the same creature.[6]


Original fossils of Pithecanthropus erectus found in Java in 1891.

Dubois did not actually discover any of the important fossils ascribed to him, nor did he see them in situ (except Wadjak II). He was usually at the headquarters and kept in contact with the dig site through written communications with the engineers and occasional visits on horseback. When fossils were found, they were sent to Dubois for preparation and provisional identification. He was dependent on the two engineers to determine the position of the fossils in the geological formation.[7]

Controversy

At the time of Dubois's work in Java, the geology and paleontology of Java were virtually unknown and there were no trained geologists working at the dig site. Dubois was an human anatomist and physician, not a geologist. There is no record of Dubois having any formal training in geology or paleontology before going to Java. As a result, he was not qualified to determine the date and location of geological deposits in Java. Furthermore, according to von Koenigswald who later also excavated at Java, Dubois is said to have first identified the Javanese fauna (animals) as Pleistocene and then, upon the discovery of Java Man, quickly changed the date to Tertiary to support the claim that the specimen was primitive.[7]

Due to his lack of training in geology and general absence from the dig site, the exact geologic location of the Java Man fossils is in question. His initial reports of the discovery focused almost entirely on the anatomy of the bones, and only the briefest description was provided regarding the locality and geologic circumstances surrounding the discovery. It wasn't until many year later (1895), that he displayed the first profile and maps of the excavation site, and he never published his promised report on the Javanese mammalian fauna. Dubois's failure to document the precise rock layer in which the fossil was found and the inability to locate its exact geologic context largely disqualify it from serious consideration.[8]

After returning to Europe in 1895, Dubois went on a lecture circuit and displayed his fossils to the International Congress of Zoology in the Netherlands. However, his claims received a mixed reception.[9] Even Ernst Haeckel's former professor was not in agreement. Rudolph Virchow, who is considered the father of modern pathology remarked: "In my opinion this creature was an animal, a giant gibbon, in fact. The thigh bone has not the slightest connection with the skull." [10] Such criticism caused him to became secretive, and paranoid, refusing to let anyone else examine the bones. Up until 1900, Dubois had been very active in promoting Java Man as the missing link and had allowed access to the fossils. But after 1900, he withdrew completely from public debate for the next twenty years, and refused access to the specimens. He did not publish a definitive paper on the skull cap until 1924, twenty three years after its discovery.[8]

Several years later, a German scientists traveled to Java in 1907 to investigate the strata where Java Man had been discovered, but Dubois did not cooperate with the expedition and refused to let them examine his bones. The German team hired 75 workers, unearthed 10,000 cubit meters of material, and sent 43 crates of fossil material back to Germany, but no evidence of Pithecanthropus could be found. Instead the German scientists found flora and fauna that looked modern in the strata where Dubois had found his Pithecanthropus. Dr. E. Carthaus, a geologist on the expedition concluded that Pithecanthropus was a modern human.[11]

Further suspicions regarding the credibility of Dubois involve two other distinctly human skullcaps that Dubois expedition had uncovered in Java. He apparently failed to display the human skullcaps when parading his Pithecanthropus. In fact, he kept the skulls hidden under the floorboards of his house for thirty years, then finally made them known in the 1920s.[12]

Man or Ape?

Creationists generally deny the evolution of hominids and instead believe that God created humans distinct from the animals, and in His image as described in the Bible. The creation point of view holds that the supposed ape-man transitional forms are either apes or true humans - there is no in-between.

Over the years, other fossil fragments similar to Pithecanthropus, were discovered in Java. Many anthropologists noted a remarkable similarity between the Java Man and the Neanderthal skulls, and even Dubois finally admitted a close resemblance. Although smaller than Neanderthal, they apparently represented the same species of humans. Cambridge University anatomist Sir Arthur Keith stated that based on two anatomical features (size and muscular processes) the Java Man skull was distinctly human. The cranial capacity of Java Man was estimated at 1000 cc, small but well within the range of modern humans, whereas the anthropoid apes never exceed 600 cc.[13]

Regarding the femur, which was found a year later and about 50 feet from the skullcap, virtually every authority except Dubois has felt that it was indistinguishable from modern humans. In addition, the skullcaps of other specimens, such as Peking man and Okduvai Hominid 28 bear striking resemblance to Java Man, and yet the femurs from these others are dissimilar, again illustrating that the Java Man femur is more modern. Sadly, although the Java Man femur has been questioned by the most respected evolutionary anatomists since its discovery, it was presented to the public together with the skullcap as proof of a missing link.[14]

Since the 1950s, Java man (Pithecanthropus erectus) along with Peking man have been known as Homo erectus (upright man). With rare possible exceptions (such as Homo habilis), the taxonomic genus homo contains true humans with a variety of anatomical sizes and shapes that are well within the range of expected diversity.

Did Dubois renounce Java Man?

Some have claimed that Dubois renounced Java Man as a “missing link” and claimed it was just a giant gibbon.[15] This claim is false, and is listed under Answers In Genesis's list of Arguments we think creationists should not use. Although Dubois was responsible for this misunderstanding, he was in fact attempting to counter arguments that Java Man was the same as other Homo erectus discoveries that were made in Java and China (Peking Man), which did not have the modern-looking human femur. To do this he emphasized what he believe were gibbon-like features.[16] Steven Jay Gould quotes Dubois as having written in 1932: "Pithecanthropus was not a man, but a gigantic genus allied to the gibbons … I still believe, now more firmly than ever, that the Pithecanthropus of Trinil is the real “missing link”."[17]

References

  1. Lubenow, Marvin. Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992. p86.
  2. Rhodes, Ron (2004). The 10 Things You Should Know About the Creation vs. Evolution Debate. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers. p. 82. ISBN 0-7369-1152-9. 
  3. Perloff, James. Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of Darwinism. Burlington, MA: Refuge Books, 1999.
  4. Biographies: Eugene Dubois by Talk.Origins
  5. Eldredge, Niles (1985). Time Frames: The Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 123. ISBN 0-671-49555-0. 
  6. Perloff, p83
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lubenow, p89
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lubenow, p90
  9. Perloff, p84
  10. Wendt, Herbert. From Ape to Adam. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972. p168.
  11. Perloff, p84-85
  12. Perloff, p85
  13. Lubenow, p95.
  14. Lubenow, p96.
  15. Who was ‘Java man’? Creation 13(3):22–23, June 1991.
  16. Lubenow, p97
  17. Gould, Stephen Jay, ‘Men of the Thirty-Third Division’, Natural History, April, 1990, pp. 12–24.

Additional information

Creationist

Secular

  • Java Man Wikipedia. Accessed January 18, 2012.
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