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No. 67: Jan-Feb 1990

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The ancient-humans-in-europe controversy

Many times in the published pages of SF appears the question: "When did humans first arrive in the Americas? It is amu sing to find that European archeologists have an analogous problem, only there the accepted date is about 1,000,000 years ago, compared to 12,000 years for the Americas. Most European archeologists believe that primitive humans migrated northward from Africa into Europe, but the timing has always been a little fuzzy. The Europeans are willing to consider minor adjustments in the million-year figure. However, there are now several sites seeming to boast human artifacts that are about 2.5 million years old. This is just too old, and a debate has commenced.

The most controversial site is Saint Eble, just below Mont Coupet, in southcentral France. Here one finds quartz fragments that look manmade to some archeologists, but seem products of natural fracturing to others. These crude objects are what some American archeologists call "Carterfacts," after G. Carter, who has found similar rock fragments in the Americas and dates them much, much earlier than 12,000 B.P. In Europe, there is little argument about the 2.5-million-year-date for the stratum in which the controversial rocks are found. The debate is over whether they are natural or products of human manu facture. The French champion of human manufacture is E. Bonifay, an archeologist at the National Center for Scientific Research, in Marseilles.

At stake here is the mainstream view that modern man is the last in a succession of three species. The first was Homo habilis, which arose in Africa about 2 million years ago. (But see SF# 66, where an origin in southeast Asia is championed.) The second species was Homo erectus, which appeared about 1.6 million years ago, also in Africa, and migrated into Europe about 1 million years ago. Homo sapiens, "our" species, appeared about 500,000 years ago in "archaic" form, to be succeeded by "modern" Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago. Obviously, a 2.5-million-year date for Homo erectus in Europe undermines this scenario. (There seems to be no evidence that Homo habilis ever made it to Europe.) (Ackerman, Sandra; "European History Gets Even Older," Science, 246:28, 1989.)

Comment. It should be pointed out that revised dates, new skeletal material, and additional contoversial sites are constantly appearing in the literature. The history of the hominid lineage is in flux.

Reference. The human fossil record is changing rapidly as new discoveries come to the fore. Our catalog: Biological Anomalies: Humans III contains an entire chapter on anomalous fossils. For details on this book, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #67, JAN-FEB 1990. � 1990-2000 William R. Corliss