Feature Article - July 2017
by Do-While Jones

The Whole Tooth

The latest theory about human evolution is based on the tooth, and nothing but the tooth.

Three views of the tooth.

If you can’t keep up with all the different theories about when and where humans evolved, we don’t blame you. We have trouble keeping up with the changing “truth” about human evolution. Here is the latest criticism of the Out-of-Africa Theory in the professional literature, which we think is still believed by most evolutionists (but we can’t be sure).

Europe, not Africa, might have spawned the first members of the human evolutionary family around 7 million years ago, researchers say.

Tooth characteristics of a chimpanzee-sized primate that once lived in southeastern Europe suggest that the primate, known as Graecopithecus, may have been a hominid, not an ape as many researchers assume. One tooth in particular, the second lower premolar, is telling. It features two partially fused roots, a trait characteristic of early hominids but not ancient apes, a team led by geoscientist Jochen Fuss of the University of Tübingen in Germany reports May 22[, 2017,] in PLOS ONE.

[…] it’s not known whether this creature regularly walked upright, a signature hominid behavior. 1

Graecopithecus got its name because its discoverer believed it was a Greek ape. But now, on the basis of one tooth, Fuss and his associates believe it was a primitive human, not an ape, and have said so in a very long article published in the Public Library of Science journal, PLOS ONE. Here is the abstract of that article:

The split of our own clade from the Panini [chimps] is undocumented in the fossil record. To fill this gap we investigated the dentognathic morphology of Graecopithecus freybergi from Pyrgos Vassilissis (Greece) and cf. Graecopithecus sp. from Azmaka (Bulgaria), using new μCT and 3D reconstructions of the two known specimens. Pyrgos Vassilissis and Azmaka are currently dated to the early Messinian at 7.175 Ma [million years ago] and 7.24 Ma. Mainly based on its external preservation and the previously vague datingGraecopithecus is often referred to as nomen dubium [dubiously named]. The examination of its previously unknown dental root and pulp canal morphology confirms the taxonomic distinction from the significantly older northern Greek hominine Ouranopithecus. Furthermore, it shows features that point to a possible phylogenetic affinity with hominins. G. freybergi uniquely shares p4 partial root fusion and a possible canine root reduction with this tribe and therefore, provides intriguing evidence of what could be the oldest known hominin. 2

We note in passing that the “missing link” is still missing, or, as Fuss prefers to say, “undocumented in the fossil record.”

Notice also that he believes the tooth is 7 million years old. If he believed the tooth were 1 million years old, or 65 million years old, he would have come to a different conclusion. The assumed age of the tooth, and the assumed evolutionary timeline, influence his conclusion. His conclusion is then offered as proof of the assumed evolutionary timeline. This is an invalid form of reasoning called, “circular logic.”

The Evidence

In this study, we propose based on root morphology [the shape of the root of a tooth] a new possible candidate for the hominin clade, Graecopithecus freybergi from Europe. Graecopithecus is known from a single mandible [jaw] from Pyrgos Vassilissis Amalia (Athens, Greece) and possibly from an isolated upper fourth premolar (P4) from Azmaka in Bulgaria (Fig 1A and 1B). A new age model for the localities Pyrgos Vassilissis and Azmaka, as well as the investigations on the fauna of these localities confirms that European hominids thrived in the early Messinian (Late Miocene, 7.25–6 Ma) and therefore existed in Europe ~ 1.5 Ma later than previously thought. 3

The only fossil evidence for Graecopithecus is a jaw from Greece and (maybe) a single tooth from Bulgaria. Fuss believes the single Bulgarian tooth does, in fact, come from the same species of critter known from the Greek jawbone, and bases his analysis on that belief.

Fuss gives this brief history of the jaw in question:

The type mandible of G. freybergi was found in 1944 by von Freyberg, who mistook it for the cercopithecid Mesopithecus [an extinct monkey similar to a modern macaque]. In the first description by von Koenigswald the mandible was identified as a hominid. Some authors have concluded, based on external morphology and in particular the apparently thick enamel and large molars, that another hominid from Greece, Ouranopithecus (9.6–8.7 Ma), could not be distinguished from Graecopithecus, thus synonymizing the former with the latter. Other authors have consistently maintained a genus level distinction between Ouranopithecus (northern Greece) and Graecopithecus (southern Greece), based on the argument that the Pyrgos specimen is insufficiently well preserved to diagnose a taxon (nomen dubium) or based on anatomical arguments. 4

Here, we provide a detailed description of the Pyrgos and Azmaka specimens by using μCT based analyses and 3D visualisations. For the first time, their internal structures are examined in order to reveal previously unknown characters in root and pulp canal morphology. Additionally, previously described features are re-assessed and a new diagnosis of G. freybergi is given. Thereby, we address the taxonomic validity of G. freybergi and further, raise the possibility of a hominin affinity. 5

I’ve Seen That Before

A “type fossil” is the first fossil discovered for a particular species. It becomes the reference fossil to which all subsequently discovered fossils are compared.

Von Freyberg found a jawbone which he thought was from a known, extinct monkey. When von Koenigswald took careful measurements on it, he realized that it was unlike that monkey, or any other critter, so he identified it as a hominid (a human ancestor). Hold that thought for a moment.

If, when taking a walk in the desert where I live, I find a rabbit skull or a coyote skull, I recognize it because I’ve seen those skulls before in the local museum. The museum knows what kind of skulls they are displaying because somebody donated a dead animal, and the bones were taken out of it and assembled into a complete skeleton for display. There is no question about what kind of skull it is because it has been observed scientifically to have come from a particular animal.

If I find a skull unlike any I have ever seen before, I don’t imagine it came from a Purple People Eater 6, or any other unknown critter. It is not good scientific practice to speculate about the characteristics of an unknown creature based on a single tooth—but evolutionists do! For example, Homo habilis and Nebraska Man. 7

When von Koenigswald studied von Freyberg’s fossil, he had never seen anything like it before, so he knew it must have come from a human ancestor. If you have seen something before, you know what it is; but if you have never seen anything like it before, how can you be sure what it is?

Article Details

Of course, most of the article by Fuss is devoted to the measurements of various parts of fossil teeth that support the conclusion that G. freybergi was actually a primitive human, not the monkey it originally appeared to be. The whole argument depends upon whether you can deduce the properties of an unknown critter from the ratio of the length of a tooth from its width, and lots of other measurements.

We don’t doubt that one can take lots of measurements and tell if they fall within the normal range of measurements for a known species, and make a reasonable conclusion that the tooth did come from that species. We do doubt that one can deduce the posture and manner of walking of a previously unknown critter simply from measurements of its teeth.

How Old is It?

There was a second article in that journal which explained how they determined that the tooth was just the right age to be a missing link. As noted in the third passage we quoted, they used “a new age model,” perhaps in both senses of the term, “new age.”

Dating fossil hominids and reconstructing their environments is critically important for understanding human evolution. Here we date the potentially oldest hominin, Graecopithecus freybergi from Europe and constrain the environmental conditions under which it thrived. For the Graecopithecus-bearing Pikermi Formation of Attica/Greece, a saline aeolian dust deposit of North African (Sahara) provenance, we obtain an age of 7.37–7.11 Ma, which is coeval with a dramatic cooling in the Mediterranean region at the Tortonian-Messinian transition. Palaeobotanic proxies demonstrate C4-grass dominated wooded grassland-to-woodland habitats of a savannah biome for the Pikermi Formation. Faunal turnover at the Tortonian-Messinian transition led to the spread of new mammalian taxa along with Graecopithecus into Europe. The type mandible of G. freybergi from Pyrgos (7.175 Ma) and the single tooth (7.24 Ma) from Azmaka (Bulgaria) represent the first hominids of Messinian age from continental Europe. Our results suggest that major splits in the hominid family occurred outside Africa. 8

Their whole argument rests on accurate dating because if the fossil is older or younger than the presumed time when humans and apes split, then it can’t be the missing link, and can’t prove that the missing link lived in Europe, not Africa.

How do they know the age? The abstract leads one to believe they know the age from the kind of salts found in the dirt, the climate of Greece 7 million years ago, the kind of grass that grew there 7 million years ago, and the age of the other mammal fossils found with it. If you actually read the article, you get a slightly different story.

The type mandible of Graecopithecus freybergi was found in the Athens Basin of southern Attica near Pyrgos Vassilissis Amalias, an area that is today largely overbuilt by the rapidly growing Greek capital. To resolve the site stratigraphy it is necessary to study the adjacent Mesogea Basin, which preserves the famous bone accumulations of Pikermi, which have been excavated for nearly 180 years and are displayed in museums worldwide. Both the Athens and the Mesogea basins developed during the Late Miocene by activation of a major detachment fault, which separates carbonates of the Internal Hellenides from Mesozoic metamorphic rocks (Fig 1). … Here we reconstruct environmental conditions from the two Graecopithecus-bearing sediment successions using grain-texture analysis, end-member modelling of grain-size distributions, geochemistry of soluble salts and provenance analysis of U-Pb ages of detrital zircons. We then provide age constraints on fossils and document environmental changes on the basis of combined bio-magnetostratigraphy and cyclostratigraphy. Furthermore, we analyse vegetation using phytoliths and palynology and discuss changes in large mammal associations to elucidate landscapes and the biogeography of this putative oldest hominin. 9

They didn’t actually date the dirt where the jaw was found in 1944 because people have built so many things there since then. Instead, they dated some nearby dirt that looks (to them) like it is the same age.

In the “Materials and methods” section, they describe the “new age model” they used. It depends upon grain-size analysis, silt grain texture, end member modeling of grain-size spectra, and dust mass accumulation rate to determine how old dirt similar to the dirt where the jaw was found is. What could possibly go wrong with that?

But they didn’t stop there. They also used ion chromatography, and U-Th-Pb isotopes, which depend upon unverifiable assumptions of initial conditions. They also used magnetostratigraphy despite the fact that nobody really knows the strength or orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field 7 million years ago. Since all these dating methods are so sketchy, they turned to astrochronology.


Orbital tuning and astrochronology
For calibration we use the bio-magnetostratigraphic age constraints given by the Astronomically Tuned Neogene Time Scale (ATNTS2012) tuned to insolation seasonality at 40°N (I40°N 21June−I40°N 21Dec of the astronomical solution La04 with present-day values for the dynamical ellipticity of the Earth and tidal dissipation by the moon). We use this insolation curve rather than the similar 65°N summer insolation and the summer inter-tropical insolation gradient (SITIG), because it appears more appropriate for the Mediterranean. High seasonal insolation contrast during precession minima and obliquity maxima has been attributed to increased Mediterranean winter rainfall related to convective precipitation.

Fluvial runoff and debris-flow occurrence are accelerated during times of increased seasonal precipitation, which is why we chose for orbital calibration to tune the mid-points of fluvial channel-trains (Chomateri Member) and debris flows (Red Conglomeratic Member) to insolation seasonality maxima. Our orbital tuning of the Pikermi Formation suggests that between sub-sections PV3 and PV1 less than a precession cycle is missing in our stratigraphic record. 10

Dang it! Our BS detector just blew up! It produced such a loud warning tone that it tore up the speaker, the needle bent, caught fire and melted! They dated the tooth using tidal data from a computer model that told them how high the tides were 7 million years ago! No, we aren’t kidding—and neither are they!

They chose the summer inter-tropical insolation gradient that gave them the answer they wanted, after tuning the mid-points. The technical term for this is, “fudging the data.” Science News quoted scientists who took this study seriously (but with possible reservations).

For now, there is no way to know whether Graecopithecus jaws and teeth belonged to an ape with some hominid-like features or a hominid with some apelike features, says paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “My guess is the former.”

But fossil evidence of hominid origins in Africa is also sparse and controversial (SN: 4/9/05, p. 227), says paleoanthropologist David Begun of the University of Toronto, a coauthor of Fuss’ study. 11

A lack of fossils from chimp and gorilla ancestors contributes to the difficulty of establishing whether creatures such as Graecopithecus and Ar. kadabba are truly hominids, says biological anthropologist Matthew Skinner of the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. 12

The more we learn about the jaw and isolated tooth, the more convinced we are that they came from a Purple People Eater.

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1 Bruce Bower, Science News, June 24, 2017, “European fossils may belong to earliest known hominid”, page 9, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/european-fossils-may-belong-earliest-known-hominid
2 Fuss, et al., PLOS ONE, May 22, 2017, “Potential hominin affinities of Graecopithecus from the Late Miocene of Europe”, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0177127
3 ibid.
4 ibid.
5 ibid.
6 Sheb Wooley - Purple People Eater (1958) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9H_cI_WCnE
8 Disclosure, March 2000, Homo “the Tool Man” Habilis
9 Madelaine Böhme, et al., PLOS ONE, May 22, 2017, “Messinian age and savannah environment of the possible hominin Graecopithecus from Europe”, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0177347
10 ibid.
11 Bruce Bower, Science News, June 24, 2017, “European fossils may belong to earliest known hominid”, page 9, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/european-fossils-may-belong-earliest-known-hominid
12 ibid.