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Human Origins: All in the Family

Photo: Neanderthal Musuem, Germany, by Clemens Vasters, via Flickr (cropped).

Editor’s note: We have been delighted to present a series by geologist Casey Luskin asking, “Do Fossils Demonstrate Human Evolution?” This is the sixth and final post in the series, which is adapted from the recent book, The Comprehensive Guide to Science and FaithFind the full series here.

In contrast to the australopithecines, the major members of Homo — i.e., erectus and the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) — are very similar to us. Some paleoanthropologists have even classified erectus and neanderthalensisas members of our own species, Homo sapiens.1

Homo erectus appears in the fossil record a little more than two million years ago. Its name means “upright man,” and unsurprisingly, below the neck, they were extremely similar to us.2 An Oxford University Press volume notes erectus was “humanlike in its stature, body mass, and body proportions.”3 An analysis of 1.5-million-year-old Homo erectus footprints4 indicates “a modern human style of walking” and “human-like social behaviours.”5 Unlike the australopithecines and habilines, erectus is the “earliest species to demonstrate the modern human semicircular canal morphology.”6

Arrival by Boat

Another study found that total energy expenditure (TEE), a complex character related to body size, diet, and food-gathering activity, “increased substantially in Homo erectus relative to the earlier australopithecines,” approaching the high TEE value of modern humans.7 While the average brain size of Homo erectus is less than the modern human average, erectus cranial capacities are within the range of normal human variation.8 Intriguingly, erectus remains have been found on islands where the most likely explanation is that they arrived by boat. Anthropologists have argued this indicates high intelligence and the use of complex language.9 Donald Johanson suggests that were erectus alive today, it could mate with modern humans to produce fertile offspring.10 In other words, were it not for our separation by time, we might be considered interbreeding members of the same species. 

A Neanderthal in Modern Clothing

As for Neanderthals, though they have been stereotyped as bungling and primitive, if a Neanderthal walked down the street, appropriately dressed, you probably wouldn’t notice. Wood and Collard note that “skeletons of H. neanderthalensis indicate that their body shape was within the range of variation seen in modern humans.”11 Washington University paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus maintains that Neanderthals were no less intelligent than contemporary humans12 and argues, “They may have had heavier brows or broader noses or stockier builds, but behaviorally, socially and reproductively they were all just people.”13 University of Bordeaux archaeologist Francesco d’Errico agrees: “Neanderthals were using technology as advanced as that of contemporary anatomically modern humans and were using symbolism in much the same way.”14

Though controversial, hard evidence backs these claims. Anthropologist Stephen Molnar explains that “the estimated mean size of [Neanderthal] cranial capacity (1,450 cc) is actually higher than the mean for modern humans (1,345 cc).”15 One paper in Nature suggested that “the morphological basis for human speech capability appears to have been fully developed” in Neanderthals.16 Indeed, Neanderthal remains have been found associated with signs of culture, including art, burial of their dead, and complex tools17 — including musical instruments like the flute.18 While dated, a 1908 report in Nature reports a Neanderthal-type skeleton wearing chain mail armor.19 Archaeologist Metin Eren said, regarding toolmaking, that “in many ways, Neanderthals were just as smart or just as good as us.”20 Morphological mosaics — skeletons showing a mix of modern human and Neanderthal traits — suggest “Neandertals and modern humans are members of the same species who interbred freely.”21 Indeed, scientists now report Neanderthal DNA markers in living humans,22 supporting proposals that Neanderthals were a subrace of our own species.23 As Trinkaus says regarding ancient Europeans and Neanderthals, “[W]e would understand both to be human. There’s good reason to think that they did as well.”24

Darwin skeptics continue to debate whether we are related to Neanderthals and Homo erectus, and evidence can be mounted both ways.25 The present point, however, is this: Even if we do share common ancestry with Neanderthals or erectus, this does not show we share ancestry with any nonhuman-like hominins.

According to Siegrid Hartwig-Scherer, the differences between human-like members of Homo such as erectus, Neanderthals, and us reflect mere microevolutionary effects of “size variation, climatic stress, genetic drift, and differential expression of [common] genes.”26 Whether we are related to them or not, these small-scale differences do notshow the evolution of humans from nonhuman-like or ape-like creatures.

A Cultural Explosion

In 2015, two top paleoanthropologists admitted in a major review that “the evolutionary sequence for the majority of hominin lineages is unknown.”27 Despite the claims of evolutionary paleoanthropologists and unceasing media hype, the fragmented hominin fossil record does not document the evolution of humans from ape-like precursors. The genus Homo appears in an abrupt, non-Darwinian fashion without evidence of an evolutionary transition from ape-like hominins. Other major members of Homo appear very similar to modern humans, and their differences amount to small-scale microevolutionary change — providing no evidence that we are related to nonhuman-like species. 

But there’s more evidence that contradicts an evolutionary model.

Many researchers have recognized an “explosion”28 of modern human-like culture in the archaeological record about 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, showing the abrupt appearance of human creativity,29 technology, art,30 and even paintings31 — as well as the rapid emergence of self-awareness, group identity, and symbolic thought.32 One review dubbed this the “Creative Explosion.”33 Indeed, a 2014 paper coauthored by leading paleoanthropologists admits we have “essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved,” since “nonhuman animals provide virtually no relevant parallels to human linguistic communication.”34 This abrupt appearance of modern human-like morphology, intellect, and culture contradicts evolutionary models, and may indicate design in human history.


  1. Eric Delson, “One Skull Does Not a Species Make,” Nature 389 (October 2, 1997), 445-446; Hawks et al., “Population Bottlenecks and Pleistocene Human Evolution”; Emilio Aguirre, “Homo erectus and Homo sapiens: One or More Species?,” 100 Years of Pithecanthropus: The Homo erectus Problem 171 Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, ed. Jens Lorenz (Frankfurt, Germany: Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, 1994), 333-339; Milford H. Wolpoff, et al., “The Case for Sinking Homo erectus: 100 Years of Pithecanthropus Is Enough!,” 100 Years of Pithecanthropus, 341-361.
  2. See Hartwig-Scherer and Martin, “Was ‘Lucy’ More Human than Her ‘Child’?”
  3. William R. Leonard, Marcia L. Robertson, and J. Josh Snodgrass, “Energetic Models of Human Nutritional Evolution,” Evolution of the Human Diet: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable, ed. Peter S. Ungar (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007), 344-359.
  4. Kevin G. Hatala et al., “Footprints Reveal Direct Evidence of Group Behavior and Locomotion in Homo erectus,” Scientific Reports 6 (2016), 28766.
  5. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, “Homo erectus walked as we do,” Science Daily (July 12, 2016), (accessed October 26, 2020).
  6. Spoor et al., “Implications of Early Hominid Labyrinthine Morphology for Evolution of Human Bipedal Locomotion.”
  7. William Leonard and Marcia Robertson, “Comparative Primate Energetics and Hominid Evolution,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 102 (February 1997), 265-281. See also Leslie C. Aiello and Jonathan C.K. Wells, “Energetics and the Evolution of the Genus Homo,” Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002), 323-338.
  8. Moreover, “Although the relative brain size of Homo erectus is smaller than the average for modem humans, it is outside of the range seen among other living primate species.” William R. Leonard, Marcia L. Robertson, and J. Josh Snodgrass, “Energetics and the Evolution of Brain Size in Early Homo,” Guts and Brains: An Integrative Approach to the Hominin Record, ed. Wil Roebroeks (Leiden, Germany: Leiden University Press, 2007), 29-46.
  9. Daniel Everett, “Did Homo erectus speak?,” Aeon (February 28, 2018), (accessed October 26, 2020).
  10. Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981), 144.
  11. See Wood and Collard, “The Human Genus.”
  12. Marc Kaufman, “Modern Man, Neanderthals Seen as Kindred Spirits,” The Washington Post (April 30, 2007), (accessed October 26, 2020).
  13. Michael Lemonick, “A Bit of Neanderthal in Us All?” Time (April 25, 1999),,9171,23543,00.html (accessed October 26, 2020).
  14. Joe Alper, “Rethinking Neanderthals,” Smithsonian (June 2003).
  15. Molnar, Human Variation: Races, Types, and Ethnic Groups, 5th ed., 189.
  16. B. Arensburg et al., “A Middle Palaeolithic Human Hyoid Bone,” Nature 338 (April 27, 1989), 758-760.
  17. Alper, “Rethinking Neanderthals”; Kate Wong, “Who Were the Neanderthals?” Scientific American (August 2003), 28-37; Erik Trinkaus and Pat Shipman, “Neanderthals: Images of Ourselves,” Evolutionary Anthropology 1 (1993), 194-201; Philip Chase and April Nowell, “Taphonomy of a Suggested Middle Paleolithic Bone Flute from Slovenia,” Current Anthropology 39 (August/October 1998), 549-553; Tim Folger and Shanti Menon, “…Or Much Like Us?” Discover (January 1997), (accessed October 26, 2020); C.B. Stringer, “Evolution of Early Humans,” The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, 248.
  18. Chase and Nowell, “Taphonomy of a Suggested Middle Paleolithic Bone Flute from Slovenia”; Folger and Menon, “…Or Much Like Us?” 
  19. Notes in Nature 77 (April 23, 1908), 587.
  20. Jessica Ruvinsky, “Cavemen: They’re Just Like Us,” Discover (January 2009), (accessed October 26, 2020).
  21. Erik Trinkaus and Cidália Duarte, “The Hybrid Child from Portugal,” Scientific American (August 2003), 32. It is worth noting that some paleoanthropologists disagree about the existence of human-Neanderthal hybrids. 
  22. Rex Dalton, “Neanderthals May Have Interbred with Humans,” Nature News (April 20, 2010), (accessed October 26, 2020).
  23. Delson, “One Skull Does Not a Species Make.” 
  24. Kaufman, “Modern Man, Neanderthals Seen as Kindred Spirits.”
  25. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam?: A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005).
  26. Hartwig-Scherer, “Apes or Ancestors,” 220.
  27. Wood and Grabowski, “Macroevolution in and around the Hominin Clade.”
  28. Paul Mellars, “Neanderthals and the Modern Human Colonization of Europe,” Nature 432 (November 25, 2004), 461-465; April Nowell, “From a Paleolithic Art to Pleistocene Visual Cultures (Introduction to Two Special Issues on ‘Advances in the Study of Pleistocene Imagery and Symbol Use’),” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13 (2006), 239-249. Others call this abrupt appearance a “revolution.” See Ofer Bar-Yosef, “The Upper Paleolithic Revolution,” Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002), 363-393.
  29. Randall White, Prehistoric Art: The Symbolic Journey of Humankind (New York: Abrams, 2003), 11, 231.
  30. Rice, Encyclopedia of Evolution, 104, 187, 194.
  31. Robert Kelly and David Thomas, Archaeology, 5th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010), 303.
  32. Bar-Yosef, “Upper Paleolithic Revolution.”
  33. Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick, “Overview of Paleolithic Archaeology,” in Handbook of Paleoanthropology, 2441-2464.
  34. Marc Hauser et al., “The Mystery of Language Evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology 5 (May 7, 2014), 401.