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No. 18: Nov-Dec 1981

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Descent of man -- or ascent of ape?

New Scientist has just published a controversial pair of articles by John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas. Summarizing mightily, it seems that:

  1. There are no fossils that are unequivocally ancestral to chimpanzees and gorillas but not to man;
  2. Therefore, the only good measure of the time when these three species split from one another is the comparison of genetic material;
  3. Genetic dating and serological techniques are unanimous in dating the chimp-gorilla-man split at about 5 million years ago.

The conclusion that chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans diverged from a com mon ancestor only 5 million years ago is opposed to the widely accepted 20 million years. This conflict in dating is controversial enough, but Gribbin and Cherfas, after considerable fossil analysis, take one more giant step: they suggest that chimps, gorillas, and man descended from an ancestor that was more man-like than ape-like. Chimpanzees and gorillas in this view are descended from man rather than vice versa.

(Cherfas, Jeremy, and Gribbin, John; "The Molecular Making of Mankind," and "Descent of Man -- Or Ascent of Ape?" New Scientist, 91:518 and 91:592, 1981.)

Comment. This hypothesis is inflammatory enough without our adding more fuel, but the possible connection to the Sasquatch/Abominable Snowman problem should not be overlooked.

Reference. The many problems associated with the human fossil record are discussed in Chapter BHE in our Catalog: Biological Anomales: Humans III. For more information on the book, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #18, NOV-DEC 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
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  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987