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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