Wednesday, 24 March 2021

The people who can trace their ancestry to before Adam

Cheddar Man, found in 1903 in a cave in Somerset is Britain's oldest complete human skeleton, having been dated to 9100 years of age. Not only does he bear eloquent testimony to the reality of human existence well before the 6000 year figure fundamentalists assign to the creation of Adam, he also has living relatives not too far from where he was found. The fundamentalists belief in universal  human descent from two people created no earlier than 6000 years ago is difficult to reconcile with these facts.


Cheddar Man skeleton

While searching for something I ran across 1997 article in the Independent relating how scientists had compared DNA from the tooth of Cheddar Man with DNA from people who lived in Somerset and found a link between ancient and modern  people.
The discovery came about during tests performed as part of a television series on archaeology in Somerset, Once Upon a Time in the West, to be shown later this year. DNA found in the pulp cavity of one of Cheddar Man's molar teeth was tested at Oxford University's Institute of Molecular Medicine, and then compared with that of 20 people locally, whose families were known to have been living in the area for some generations. 

To make up the numbers, Mr Targett, an only child who has no children, joined in. But the match was unequivocal: the two men have a common maternal ancestor. The mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from the egg, confirmed it. [1]

I was curious to find out more behind this story and quickly discovered an article at Oxford Ancestors in which described a rationale for this work, namely testing the theory that "most Europeans descended from a 'wave' of immigration from the Near East over the past 8000 years", agriculturalists who had "overwhelmed and displaced the indigenous hunter-gatherer". [2] As Cheddar Man is one of the few British skeletons to date from before the arrival of agriculture in the UK, it provided a ready source of DNA. The researcher noted that the DNA sequences "were identical to many people in Britain today whose ancestors had clearly not been swept away by Near-Eastern farmers." [3] The researcher concluded by noting
As a graphic illustration I took samples from local schoolchildren, two of whose DNA exactly matched Cheddar Man. A third, from the history master, was a very close match, demonstrating the amazing continuity of DNA in Somerset and the fact that Cheddar folk had only moved two miles down the road in more than 10,000 years.  [4]
Let's take a moment to unpack what this "amazing continuity of DNA" means. What this continuity means is that not only do we have a population that can trace its ancestry back to the time given for the creation of Adam, we have a population that evidently was not affected by the flood of Noah. Evangelical historian Mark Noll in his classic "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" in quoting geologist Davis Young's observation on how evangelicals shy away from any discussion about science which impacts on literal readings of Gen 1-11 could well be describing how the fundamentalist wing of our community responds to any discussion of these issues
The modern evangelical church is extremely sensitive about open discussion of scientific issues that bear on Genesis 1–11. Enough Christians are so afraid of what might turn up in such discussions that anyone who does try to explore the issues is in ecclesiastical jeopardy. The prevailing atmosphere of fear tends to squelch attempts to deal with these issues. The issue of the origin of humankind is especially sensitive. It seems that the church is afraid to look into paleoanthropology. Where is the curiosity about the physical history of human beings? Among the multitude of evangelical commentaries on Genesis, hardly any of them addresses the problems of anthropology. Geology is often discussed. Some of the commentators have admitted the possibility of a local flood; others are not yet sure of the legitimacy of geological findings. But virtually all of the commentators assume the anthropological universality of the flood without any engagement whatsoever with the archeological and anthropological data relevant to the question of the flood’s impact on the human race. It’s as if the hundreds, perhaps thousands of ancient human sites around the world didn’t exist. [5]
These ancient human sites do exist, and cannot be ignored or explained away as some godless conspiracy. Any community that values truth cannot continue to ignore them or privilege dogma over fact.

3. ibid
4. ibid
5. Davis A. Young, “Theology and Natural Science,” Reformed Journal, May 1988, 13. Cited in  Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994).