Saturday, 6 December 2014

500,000 year old graffiti from Homo erectus - yet another nail in the YEC coffin

It's not as if YEC needed further refutation; the belief that the entire universe is 6000 years old is demonstrably false nonsense that betrays either a profound ignorance of modern science, or a wilful rejection of it in favour of a deeply flawed fundamentalist reading of the creation narratives that is rejected by all credible OT scholars. Still, the rate of scientific discoveries for human - and prehuman - existence well before the earliest possible date for Adam serves to remind us yet again that YEC is fractally wrong.

The discovery of 500,000 year old fossil shells from Trinil in Java that are inscribed makes them the oldest examples of human inscriptions, and by a significant margin of 300,000 years. The significance of this is that it shows such complex cognitive activity was not the sole province of Homo sapiens, but also of Asian Homo erectus. From the abstract:
The manufacture of geometric engravings is generally interpreted as indicative of modern cognition and behaviour1. Key questions in the debate on the origin of such behaviour are whether this innovation is restricted to Homo sapiens, and whether it has a uniquely African origin 1. Here we report on a fossil freshwater shell assemblage from the Hauptknochenschicht (‘main bone layer’) of Trinil (Java, Indonesia), the type locality of Homo erectus discovered by Eugène Dubois in 1891 (refs 2 and 3). In the Dubois collection (in the Naturalis museum, Leiden, The Netherlands) we found evidence for freshwater shellfish consumption by hominins, one unambiguous shell tool, and a shell with a geometric engraving. We dated sediment contained in the shells with 40Ar/39Ar and luminescence dating methods, obtaining a maximum age of 0.54 ± 0.10 million years and a minimum age of 0.43 ± 0.05 million years. This implies that the Trinil Hauptknochenschicht is younger than previously estimated. Together, our data indicate that the engraving was made by Homo erectus, and that it is considerably older than the oldest geometric engravings described so far 4, 5. Although it is at present not possible to assess the function or meaning of the engraved shell, this discovery suggests that engraving abstract patterns was in the realm of Asian Homo erectus cognition and neuromotor control. [1]
Here's the shell with graffiti:

One of course should not hype this discovery as evidence of Homo erectus writing. Neither however should one write it off as a one-off. As palaeoanthropologist John Hawks concludes in his comment on this discovery:
I do not think we can dismiss doodling as meaningless. But neither do I think we can promote it as highly meaningful. Meaning is something that archaeologists cannot reach. What we can say is that these artifacts carry information about the capabilities of their makers. The few non-perishable marked objects also speak to the likely presence of design in perishable elements of material culture. Clothing, however rudimentary, was likely to have been decorated in some way. Wooden tools were also probably notched and zigzagged -- as the occasional bone and ivory implements suggest. 
They lived for the first time in a world that they could change. [2]
The genomics evidence confirms that we are related to Homo erectus, given the huge coalescence times of some genes dating back well beyond the earliest appearance of Homo sapiens. What we are seeing is evidence of human-like behaviour in our ancestors, a message half a million years old. That YECs cripple minds into denying the reality of this magnificent discovery, and its significance is a testament to the power dogma, ignorance, and fear has to warp curiosity. That alone is enough to condemn YEC.

1. Joordebns J.C.A. et al "Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving" Nature (2014) doi:10.1038/nature13962
2. Hawks J "The Art of Homo erectus"  john hawks weblog Dec 3 2014