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The story of human evolution is based on fictional fossil evidence

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Abstract and Figures

In a new version of the aquatic-ape theory, Homo sapiens evolved directly from isolated chimpanzees on Galapagos-like volcanic islands in western Africa. The theory explains human features such as the lack of fur, the ability to accumulate subcutaneous blubber, the large brain, and bipedal locomotion. It fits well with principles of evolution, and with anatomy, physiology, genetics, geography and geology. But it does not fit with hominin fossils. This calls for an alternative hypothesis: humans evolved without fossils being formed, and supposed hominin fossils are all misunderstandings.
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Allan G. Krill
August 16, 2020
Key words
Human evolution, Lucy, Laetoli, Turkana, Nariokotome, Little-Foot
In a new version of the aquatic-ape theory, Homo sapiens evolved directly from
isolated chimpanzees on Galapagos-like volcanic islands in western Africa. The
theory explains human features such as the lack of fur, the ability to accumulate
subcutaneous blubber, the large brain, and bipedal locomotion. It fits well with
principles of evolution, and with anatomy, physiology, genetics, geography and
geology. But it does not fit with hominin fossils. This calls for an alternative
hypothesis: humans evolved without fossils being formed, and supposed hominin
fossils are all misunderstandings. I have studied the published literature, and am
convinced that some of the most famous fossil evidence is false: Bones of the Lucy
skeleton are probably modern, taken from a burial vault near the discovery site. The
Laetoli footprints are probably from Homo sapiens of Pleistocene age. The footprint
layer has been covered up to protect it, so geological misinterpretations have not
been noticed by visitors. The Turkana Boy Homo erectus skeleton is probably not a
fossil, but is a mutilated child of the Congo atrocities of 1885-1908, whose bones
were planted at Nariokotome to be discovered by scientists. The Little-Foot skeleton
of Sterkfontein Cave is a composite, including probable human foot bones from a
medical school. The century-old story of human evolution on the savanna is like an
historical fiction novel, in which details need to be invented to make the story
educational, interesting, and convincing to readers. Fossils have been required, to
quell the unscientific belief in creationism.
Paleoanthropologists study fossils, which they use to write the story of human evolution.
The fossils they need are found in dry parts of Africa. Western Africa lacks mammal fossils,
because the hot and humid climate there causes bones to decay before fossilization can
We know from DNA that chimpanzees are our closest relatives, and gorillas are our next
closest. Over the past 10 Ma, gorillas have evolved in four different locations (Fig. 1) into
four different taxa (Gorilla gorilla gorilla, Gorilla gorilla diehli, Gorilla beringei beringei,
Gorilla beringei graueri). Similarly, chimpanzees have evolved in five different locations
into five different taxa (Pan troglodytes verus, Pan troglodytes vellerosus, Pan troglodytes
troglodytes, Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii, Pan paniscus). There are no fossils in any of
these humid areas.
Figure 1. Locations where gorillas and chimpanzees evolved. Some of the best known
hominin fossils are from Hadar (Lucy), Laetoli, Turkana, and Sterkfontein (Little-Foot).
Base map from Google maps.
Where did humans evolve? Paleoanthropologists tell us that it was in arid eastern Africa,
where fossils can be found. I think that is a cognitive bias, an example of The Streetlight
Effect (Fig. 2).
Figure 2. The lack of interest in western Africa may be an example of The Streetlight
Effect. Drawing by Alex Krill
Why did humans evolve? There is no clear answer. A survey (1) among life-scientists
shows that there is no consensus as to the evolutionary cause of any of the remarkable
human traits, such as naked skin, large brain, subcutaneous fat, external nose, and
bipedal locomotion.
Human traits can all be explained by the unorthodox aquatic-ape theory, in which humans
evolved from a chimpanzee-like ancestor during a period of semiaquatic habitat (2, 3).
Now a new version of the aquatic-ape theory has been published (4), with humans
evolving in western Africa, in a scenario similar to evolution of animals on the Galapagos
Islands. In this theory, a few chimpanzees rafted to barren islands of newly formed proto-
Bioko. There was no forest where they stranded, and they were forced to live on a marine
diet. They adopted a semiaquatic habitat, and become bipedal by wading in seawater to
gather shellfish and seaweed. Like many marine mammals, they lost their fur, and evolved
fat cells for producing subcutaneous blubber. They evolved large brains from the omega-3
fatty acids of the marine diet. All other human features can also be explained in this way.
The theory fits well with principles of evolution, with geology, geography, and with human
and chimpanzee anatomy, physiology, and genetics. But it does not fit well with hominin
fossils—that paleoanthropologists tell us are human ancestors.
Since learning about the aquatic-ape theory, I have studied the primary literature on the
most important hominin fossils. Fossils have been needed to argue against the non-
scientific belief in creationism. But I think the savanna story and the fossils that support it
are incorrect. I see that key fossil evidence has been invented, like details in a historical
fiction novel, needed to make an educational story convincing and interesting. Here I show
why some of the best known hominin fossils should no longer be believed.
Non-scientific practices in paleoanthropology
Ape fossils are rare. There has never been reported a fossil bone of the gorilla or the
chimpanzee. Three teeth of a chimpanzee were once found near Lake Turkana in Kenya
(5), but I think they were planted there to fool scientists.
Because of the rarity of ape fossils, paleoanthropology has special practices to encourage
more people to look for them and find them. Some of these practices go against good
science, in which evidence should be reproducible by impartial scientists. Three of the
practices that are especially problematic are: 1) the acceptance of surface-finds, 2) the
prevention of hands-on study by outsiders, and 3) the lack of blinding in age-determination
The acceptance of surface-finds
Most hominin fossils are surface-finds. A fossil is found lying loose on a layer of known
geologic age, and nothing more is found by digging. A fossil can only lie exposed that way
for a few years before it either found or is destroyed by weathering.
A surface-find is not good scientific evidence, because it is easily falsified, and cannot be
verified or obtained again. Any type of irreproducible evidence should be subject to doubt.
But in paleoanthropology, a finder’s claims are not questioned. A scientist may suspect that
a fossil find was not legitimate, but a public accusation could not be proven and would ruin
the reputation of the accuser.
In contrast to hominins, dinosaur bones and complete skeletons are abundant. They are
found by looking for a fragment lying loose on the ground. But this is not a surface-find.
The searcher moves uphill to where the fragment is eroding out of the sedimentary layer,
and then excavates complete bones. For dinosaurs, the claim that a fossil bone or partial
skeleton was found loose on the ground would not be taken seriously.
The prevention of hands-on study by unbiased scientists
To encourage fossil hunting, the finder of a hominin fossil has exclusive rights to study it.
The finder can prevent independent scientists from seeing the material until the finder's
team is finished publishing (6, 7). The finder's study can go on for decades. Even
afterwards, the material is too valuable and fragile to allow outsiders to handle it. They
must work with photographs, replicas, and descriptions of the original materials.
The finder selects specialists to study the fossil material. These scientists are not impartial.
If they cast doubt on the material's authenticity or suitability, it will spoil the team's chance
for important publications. Chemical and physical tests that might disprove a fossil’s
authenticity are not carried out.
Specialists glue fragments together in suitable positions. This involves decisions about
how the fragments should fit, and how to fill in missing pieces. These decisions can
determine such things as brain size and upright stance. Once glued, it is not possible for
others to propose alternatives. Any objection to the exciting results would appear to be
motivated by envy.
Lack of blinding in age-determination studies
When minerals or rocks are radiometrically dated, the result will not be publishable if it is
not sufficiently precise, or if the date is outside the range of acceptable ages.
Publishability trumps reliability. To make the results publishable, it is often necessary for
scientists to ignore parts of the data that would spoil the final result. Deletion of some
data is no secret to those who do the dating, but it is rarely mentioned.
I know from geological experience with isotopic dating, that radiometric dates are often
incorrect because of observer expectation bias. I think that for a radiometric date to be
trustworthy, it should be obtained by workers who do not know what age is preferred.
Ideally, the material should be dated twice, in independent laboratories. This is never
A critical look at published reports of famous human fossils.
Java Man
Eugène Dubois was a Dutch anatomist who collected fossils. After reading about the
concept of a missing link, he moved to Java in 1887 “obsessed with finding it and
winning scientific fame and fortune. (7), p 29). He succeeded: in 1891 he announced
Java Man. It consisted only of three items, which were not actually found together: a
femur (thigh bone), a tooth, and a skullcap.
Discussions of Java Man greatly contributed to the awareness and status of
paleoanthropology. Within 10 years, almost eighty books or articles had been published on
this topic. Most scientists who saw Dubois’ three items rejected his claims that these were
human fossils. Therefore, he kept them hidden away for several decades.
Peking Man
Peking Man was a missing-link sensation in the 1930’s. The fossils consisted of skull
fragments from as many as 15 individuals, found together with stone tools. High-quality
casts and scientific descriptions were made. But somehow, all the original material was
lost in 1941, and has never been found (7). Paleoanthropologists currently assign both
Java Man and Peking Man to Homo erectus.
Piltdown Man
Piltdown Man was a missing link found in England in 1912. It consisted of a skull with a
large braincase and a protruding jaw, that confirmed the assumption that the large brain
evolved before other human features. Despite some doubt, it was accepted for almost 40
years, and then proven to be a hoax. The pieces actually came from the cranium of a
human, and the jaw of an orangutan. They had been broken so that they might fit together.
They were stained to look old, and dirt was cemented into the cracks. A long canine tooth
was filed down, to make it look human.
The trickster was Charles Dawson, an amateur archeologist and respected solicitor. He
claimed to have gotten the main pieces from the Piltdown gravel pit. He planted additional
bones and tools at the locality, and led experts to where they could be discovered. It was
later shown that Dawson owned a collection of false artifacts (8).
Three anatomy experts who studied the original material constructed the braincase to be
1070 cm3, much smaller than it actually was. They saw human-like features in the jaw, and
ape-like features in the cranium. No one today doubts that these were honest errors in
judgment. They received British knighthood, largely as a result of their contribution to the
scientific status of England. Some scientists were skeptical, but no one could suggest that
the fossil was a hoax.
It was fluorine testing that finally debunked Piltdown Man. Bones absorb fluorine from the
ground over time, so ancient bones should be rich in fluorine (9). Bones from the same
individual buried in the same sediments will have absorbed about the same amount of
fluorine. After the scandal of Piltdown Man, one might expect that fluorine testing would be
required for all hominin fossils. But there is no incentive to carry out a fluorine test, or a
carbon-14 analysis, or look for DNA, because such tests require destruction of a small
amount of the fossil material.
Piltdown Man generated immense public interest that boosted the science of
paleoanthropology. Several hundred scientific papers were published. It was often
mentioned by the media in 1925 during the famous Scopes monkey-trial, where an
American school teacher was accused of teaching evolution. Fossils were needed to
argue against the unscientific belief in creationism.
Lucy (Hadar, Ethiopia)
The Lucy skeleton was found by Professor Donald C. Johanson on Sunday, November 24,
1974, in Hadar, Ethiopia. In Johanson's books (10, 11, 12) it is clear that the bones were a
surface-find, with nothing found by digging. Yet on the web page of the Institute of Human
Origins (IHO), which Johanson founded in 1981, he is shown excavating a bone (Fig. 3).
Figure 3. Despite the implications of
this photograph, all the Lucy bones
were lying loose on the surface. Image
from the Institute of Human Origins
Lucy's Story was written to imply that some of the bones were found by digging (13):
Within moments, he spotted a right proximal ulna (forearm bone) and quickly
identified it as a hominid. Shortly thereafter, he saw an occipital (skull) bone, then a
femur, some ribs, a pelvis, and the lower jaw. Two weeks later, after many hours of
excavation, screening, and sorting, several hundred fragments of bone had been
recovered, representing 40 percent of a single hominid skeleton.
Much less than 40 percent of that skeleton was actually found, and nothing was found by
excavation. But this misleading information is useful against creationism, and therefore
benefits science. We might call it a noble lie. My complaint is that misinformation pervades
paleoanthropology and is used against the aquatic-ape theory, which is also science.
I think the discovery of the Lucy bones was a Piltdown-type hoax. I contend that it is
impossible for a partial skeleton to be lying loose on the surface in a badlands terrain like
Hadar. Bones are buried and preserved in a horizontal layer of sediment. As that layer is
eroded on a hillside, rain removes only a centimeter or so at a time. A few fragments of
weathered bone loosen, and are washed downhill, while the remaining bone stays covered
in the horizontal layer. In the next rainstorm, the first fragments are washed away and a
few new ones are loosened. Sometimes a large part of a bone with rock matrix can tumble
down the hill, but never a collection of bones with no rock matrix from a single individual.
Finding many bones at once, with nothing found by digging, verges on the miraculous. I
think that the bones were planted by Johanson’s student Tom Gray in order to fool him and
to help him. Here you can read the first two pages of Johanson's book Lucy's Legacy. It is
a long citation, but it is important. Since outsiders are not allowed access to original fossil
material, this is the sort of evidence that we must use (12), p. 3-4).
Lucy's Legacy!
by Donald C. Johanson and Kate Wong
Never in my wildest fantasies did I imagine that I would discover a fossil as
earthshaking as Lucy. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of traveling to Africa and
finding a “missing link.” Lucy is that and more: a 3.2-million-year-old skeleton who
has become the spokeswoman for human evolution. She is perhaps the best
known and most studied fossil hominid of the twentieth century, the benchmark by
which other discoveries of human ancestors are judged.
Whenever I tell the story, I am instantly transported back to the thrilling moment
when I first saw her thirty-four years ago on the sandy slopes of Hadar in Ethiopia's
Afar region. I can feel the searing, noonday sun beating down on my shoulders, the
beads of sweat on my forehead, the dryness of my mouth— and then the shock of
seeing a small fragment of bone lying inconspicuously on the ground. Most
dedicated fossil hunters spend the majority of their lives in the field without finding
anything remarkable, and there I was, a thirty-one-year-old newly minted Ph.D.,
staring at my childhood dream at my feet.
Sunday, November 24, 1974, began, as it usually does for me in the field, at dawn.
I had slept well in my tent, with the glittering stars visible through the small screen
that kept out the mosquitoes, and as sunrise announced a brilliant new day, I got
up and went to the dining tent for a cup of thick, black Ethiopian coffee. Listening to
the morning sounds of camp life, I planned with some disinclination the day's
activities: catching up on correspondence, fossil cataloging, and a million other
tasks that had been set aside to accommodate a visit from anthropologists Richard
and Mary Leakey. I looked up as Tom Gray, my grad student, appeared.
“I'm plotting the fossil localities on the Hadar map,” he said. “Can you show me Afar
Locality 162, where the pig skull was found last year?”
“I have a ton of paperwork and am not sure I want to leave camp today.”
“Can you do the paperwork later?”
“Even if I start it now I'll be doing it later,” I grumbled. But something inside — a gut
sense that I had learned to heed — said I should put the paperwork aside and
head to the outcrops with Tom.
The first sentence is clearly false. Johanson made it clear in the second sentence, and in
the last sentence of the second paragraph, that he had always dreamed of finding an
earthshaking missing link. Tom Gray drove him to the place where his dream came true.
The Lucy bones were lying in such a way that (12, p. 7): “a single desert thunderstorm
could have washed them off the plateau, over a cliff and into oblivion, forever.”
Johanson immediately decided that this was a female Australopithecus, and they named it
Lucy. As he wrote in his first book (10, p. 18):
The camp was rocking with excitement. That first night we never went to bed at all.
We talked and talked. We drank beer after beer. There was a tape recorder in the
camp, and a tape of the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" went belting
out into the night sky, and was played at full volume over and over again out of
sheer exuberance. At some point during that unforgettable evening—I no longer
remember exactly when—the new fossil picked up the name of Lucy, and has been
so known ever since, although its proper name—its acquisition number in the
Hadar collection—is AL 288-1.
Within a few days, Johanson contacted government authorities and arranged for a press
conference (12), p. 8). After publicly announcing such a sensational success, it would be
difficult for Johanson to doubt his fossil's authenticity. But we should doubt it. In 2015,
experts studying a Lucy replica suspected that a neck vertebra belonged to a baboon. One
of them flew to Ethiopia to study the original material, and confirmed their suspicion (15).
It took paleoanthropology 40 years to discover that mistake. But the abstract of the
published paper included a sentence to downplay the scandal (15): “This work does not
refute previous work on Lucy or its importance for human evolution, but rather highlights
the importance of studying original fossils, as well as the efficacy of the scientific method.”
The Lucy-bones were found in an obvious place that had been visited many times before.
In his memoir, geologist Jon Kalb wrote: (14, p. 151):
The Lucy locality, L288, was surrounded by a cluster of seven other fossil
localities mapped by Dennis Peak and myself. At one time or another in 1973,
probably everyone in camp had walked across L288, Johanson included.
Gray’s friends may have known that these bones were planted there, and that Gray took
Johanson out to find them. Johanson wrote how Gray announced the recovery of the Lucy
fossils to others in the team (10, p. 17):
“Cool it,” I said.
But about a quarter of a mile from camp, Gray could not cool it. He pressed his
thumb on the Land-Rover’s horn, and the long blast brought a scurry of scientists
who had been bathing in the river. “We’ve got it,” he yelled. “Oh, Jesus, we’ve got
We’ve got The Whole Thing!
The Lucy bones were found toward the end of the 1974 field season, after little else of
interest had been found. The same thing had happened in 1973. Johanson and Gray were
together, when Johanson made a sensational find that saved the 1973 field season from
failure (11), p. 82):
Day after day I scrambled around in the stifling heat. But if there were hominids to
be found, they were keeping themselves well hidden. After several weeks of
exploring, I had exhausted most of a grant that was supposed to have lasted two
years, and had nothing to show for it. I wondered how I was going to explain that to
the NSF.
Then, near the limit of our time in the field, Hadar suddenly fulfilled its promise. While
surveying late one afternoon with a colleague named Tom Gray, I uncovered what
looked to be a monkey’s proximal tibia—the top end of a shinbone. A few yards away,
I noticed a distal femur—the lower end of a thighbone—lying in two pieces on the
ground. I put the two pieces of femur together, and then carefully fit them against the
tibia. That they matched perfectly was not surprising, since they were the same color,
lay next to each other, and thus might be expected to form the knee joint of a single
individual. What was surprising—astonishing, in fact—was the way they fit together.
The thigh and shin bones met at an angle, the femur slanting outward. There was
only one living primate endowed with such a knee joint. Human femurs angle outward
in order to give balance for walking on two legs. I could scarcely believe the evidence
in my hands. If our preliminary dating of the Hadar deposits was correct, I was
holding the knee joint of a hominid over three million years old: the earliest record of
a bipedal ancestor yet discovered.
Johanson then wanted a modern human femur to compare with this 3 Ma-old one. He and
Gray knew just where to get one, only a short walk from their camp. As Johanson
explained in his previous book: (10, p.159):
“I have to have a femur.”
By that time we had arrived at the burial mound. It was a loosely made dome of
boulders and was probably a good many years old, because one side had fallen
away. I looked in. There was a large heap of bones inside—a family burial place.
Lying on the top, almost asking to be taken, was a femur. Tom took it. We looked
around. There was no one in sight. Tom put the bone in his shirt and carried it back
to camp. That night I compared it with the fossil. Except for size, they were virtually
The burial vault had probably been raided earlier, since a femur was now lying on top. The
fossil knee-joint and the Lucy bones are said to be smaller than those of a human, but so
was the cranium of Piltdown Man. The geologist Jon Kalb shared camp with Johanson’s
team on the day Johanson supposedly discovered the knee joint. Kalb noted irregularties
with Johanson’s behavior and his registration of this fossil discovery. Kalb summarized his
suspicions by writing: “there was something rotten in Denmark” (14, p.105).
My current hypothesis is that Gray returned to this burial vault, carefully chose some
human bones, and planted them and some baboon bones near the pig-skull locality, in
order to guarantee that the 1974 field season would be successful. This hypothesis might
now be tested by analyzing the bones for fluorine, carbon 14, or DNA.
If the Lucy bones are indeed true fossils, they were nevertheless a surface-find, that is
now being misrepresented on IHO’s webpage (13). Johanson made it clear how desperate
he was to succeed. It is naïve to accept Johanson’s claim that these fossils are from the
KH-1s sandstone, between the Kada Hadar Tuff and Confetti Clay, and are therefore as
old as 3.2 Ma.
Laetoli footprints (Tanzania)
Thousands of animal tracks, together with footprints of bipedal hominins, were discovered
at Laetoli, south of Olduvai Gorge (Figs. 4, 5) in 1978. The tracks were said to be about
3.5 Ma old. They were published by Mary Leakey and geology professor Richard Hay, first
in an article in Nature in 1979 (16), and then in an article in Scientific American in 1982
(17). Already in 1979, before independent scientists could visit the site, Leakey and Hay
had the hominin footprints covered up by soil and boulders to protect them (Fig. 6). They
have remained covered since, only opened a few times to remove acacia trees and
document the damage that soil and tree roots had caused (18).
The cover-up made it difficult for independent geologists to study the footprint layer, and
no one has corrected what I think are significant errors in the geological interpretation. I
have studied the published works on Laetoli and Olduvai (19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26,
27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35). I contend that the 3.5 Ma dating of the hominin tracks is
invalid, because the rock layers are sedimentary, not volcanic. I think the footprints are
Homo sapiens, similar to fossil footprints that occur near Lake Natron, about 100
kilometers to the northeast (36). A local animal tracking expert engaged by Mary Leakey
thought that the Laetoli animal tracks looked modern (24), p. 7), and they have never been
properly described or identified.
Figure 4. Geological map showing horizontal layers as white (From 16). Basement
(including inselbergs) consists of Precambrian metamorphic rocks in the west and volcanic
rocks in the east. My orange stars indicate volcanic inselberg basement.
Figure 5. Figure from Hay & Leakey (17). My orange annotations added.
Figure 6. The footprint layer was covered up in 1979 by soil and boulders, purportedly to
protect it. The cover-up also kept visiting geologists from seeing it. (Photo from Getty
Conservation Institute, 18).
The footprint layer is one of 18 layers, averaging about 1 centimeter thick, that are
perfectly flat and horizontal. Over half of the layers show animal tracks, pits from
raindrops, and mudcracks. One layer shows hominin footprints. The obvious geological
hypothesis would be that these were muds on the margin of a large shallow lake. In the
rainy season, a layer of mud is deposited and tracks are made by animals near the lake. In
a dry period, the layer dries and hardens, while mudcracks form and the tracks are
preserved. In the next rainy season, the process is repeated, and this can easily occur 18
times. The minerals of such sedimentary layers have different source ages, all older than
the layers themselves. The minerals can be dated, but they do not give the age of the
The lake-margin hypothesis was never mentioned in the publications by Hay. His
explanation was outlandish: each thin layer represented a volcanic eruption that left an
ash-fall on a smooth flat landscape (16, 17). After each eruption, there came enough rain
to moisten the ash and make it cohesive and able to record tracks, but not enough rain to
wash the ash away. It hardened to form the rock called ash-fall tuff. But there is no ash
preserved (23), and no angular volcanic shards in these supposed tuffs. The layers are
carbonate-rich, like lake sediments and unlike volcanic ash (24). There are rounded sand
grains (35), typical of sediments. Hay wrote that most of the layers have a “polygonal
fracture pattern”, which in his photograph (his figure 4, 24) looks like the mudcracks of
sediments. Such fractures are unknown in tuffs. Mudcracks and rounded grains would be
easily seen by visitors if the rocks were not covered.
The dated minerals show a spread of radiometric ages, which also argues against the
layers being from volcanic eruptions of about the same age. But Alan Deino, who did the
dating, simply accepted Hay’s volcanic interpretation. He also accepted the conclusion
from the dating study decades earlier in the same laboratory, that the layer of footprints
was about 3.5 Ma old (31, p. 78). To improve the precision of the previously determined
ages, he analyzed 325 feldspar mineral grains from different layers. First he threw out
23 of his analyses, because they were inappropriately young. Then he threw out 119
because they were inappropriately old (31, p. 80):
Of the remaining 302 analyses, many are simply too old to reflect a true eruptive
age. These are most likely xenocrysts, acquired immediately prior to or during the
eruptive process, or during transport to the site of deposition. At Laetoli, where
the current dating effort, as well as prior work, indicates that the oldest strata of
the Laetoli Beds are ~4.2–4.4 Ma, a cutoff of 4.7 Ma is used to classify 119 grains
as ‘obvious xenocrysts.’ The most precise of these (< 3% error in age) are up to
600 Ma, with prominent modes at ~7.6, 6.5, and 5.5 Ma.
He used the grains that gave the ages and precisions that he needed to publish this
paper. The others he called xenocrysts, or foreign grains in volcanic rocks. He did not
describe or show any thin-section pictures of rocks or mineral grains. I think all his
analyses are actually correct, including the young and old ones. But they are all detrital
grains in sedimentary rocks, and he should have thrown them all out.
I contend that the beds of Laetoli are sedimentary, which makes the ages invalid. There is
one valid dating result: a 2.3 Ma age of the volcanic basalt of the Ogol Lavas (see Fig. 7,
right column). However, I am convinced that Hay misinterpreted the position of the Ogol
Lavas, by thinking that they occur above some beds. Neither Hay nor others discuss
exactly which beds the lavas supposedly occur above. Also at Olduvai Gorge, Hay
interpreted some Ngorongoro volcanics to lie above some layers of Bed I (see Fig. 7, left
column). Louis Leakey wrote that Hay was probably wrong about that stratigraphic position
(19, p. 2).
Anyone can see that the footprint layer at Laetoli is covered up. Only a geologist who has
studied the regional literature would be able to see that geologic information at Laetoli and
Olduvai is covered up and that the Laetoli ages are incorrect.
The incorrect ages have led to regional geologic problems. The Olduvai Gorge (see Fig. 4)
cuts through the horizontal beds of the Serengeti Plain like a mini version of the Grand
Canyon. Unlike the Grand Canyon, there is no published geologic map or cross-section
showing the beds and their continuity. This is because the incorrect Laetoli dates make a
map and cross-section impossible. It is like the M. C. Escher waterfall: the beds at Laetolil
are supposedly old, at a low level, while similar beds at Olduvai are young, at a high level.
To put more distance between Olduvai and Laetoli, at least mentally, geologists now call
the Laetoli land surface the Eyasi Plateau instead of the Serengeti Plain (as in Fig. 4).
Fig. 7. Horizontal strata at Olduvai (left diagram, from 18) and Laetoli (right diagram, from 19). Hay (20)
thought Ogol volcanics lie over Laetolil Beds. I think the Ogol Lavas are volcanic basement, which
includes inselbergs like Namorod and Engelosin.
The academic books (19, 21, 24, 27, 28) that one needs in order to study the geology of
Olduvai and Laetoli are expensive and not easily available. Few independent geologists
have gotten involved in the regional geology there. As I read the scientific papers in these
books, I notice the avoidance of obvious geological hypotheses, types of data, and routine
descriptions. Key omissions have helped keep the incorrect 3.5 Ma age covered up until
now. Only a geologist with all the sources could notice that the information is missing:
Geological maps and cross sections of the beds of Olduvai and the beds of Laetoli.
The hypothesis that the ash-fall tuffs could be sedimentary and not volcanic.
The hypothesis that Hay’s “polygonal fracture pattern” could be sedimentary
Chemical analyses (whole-rock, trace-element, and isotopes) of the supposed ash-
fall tuffs, which would be needed to properly show they are volcanic and not
Thin-section descriptions and photomicrographs of the dated rocks and minerals,
which would be needed to show volcanic ash-fall origin.
Information on the stratigraphic position of the Ogol Lavas, and contact relationships
of these lavas with supposedly underlying beds.
My hypothesis is that the layers and animal tracks at Laetoli are of Pleistocene age, and
the footprints are Homo sapiens. Geological data that would show this have been covered
up, just as the geological features at the Laetoli tourist locality have been covered up by
soil and boulders.
Protsch discoveries
Reiner Protsch was a respected German anthropology professor whose career ended in
disgrace in 2004. Some of the fossil material he had dated was taken from him and sent to
an independent laboratory for testing. It was shown that he had faked discovery locations
and dates of bones for decades, in order to publish exciting scientific results (37, 38, 39).
His Hahnhöfersand Man, supposedly from a bog in northern Germany, was not a fossil at
all. Neither were two other of his discoveries, the Binshof-Speyer Woman and the
Paderborn-Sande Man. A 50-million-year-old primate fossil that Protsch had said was from
Switzerland was actually from a previously known site in France.
Protsch’s background was at Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli. As part of his Ph.D. thesis at
UCLA in 1973, he dated a Homo sapiens fossil that had once been thought to be from the
million-year-old Bed II of Olduvai (see Figure 6). It was debunked by fluorine analysis, and
then Protsch helped to correctly date it, at about 17,000 years old (40, see 22, p.165). In a
later report (41), Protsch noted that there were location discrepencies and missing fossil
items in the Laetoli area (see 34, p.143, p.147). He must have realized that errors in
paleoanthropology can go uncorrected, and that falsehoods can lead to success.
Turkana Boy (Nariokotome, Kenya)
Turkana Boy is the most complete skeleton of a hominin ever found. It was found in 1984
in the dry Nariokotome River valley, just west of Lake Turkana, Kenya (42). The braincase
of 880 cc is smaller than a modern human’s, but otherwise the bones and teeth are
strikingly human.
The skeleton is described in a book of scientific papers The Nariokotome Homo erectus
skeleton, edited by Alan Walker and Richard Leakey (42). The skeleton was determined to
be a boy that was about 12 years of age when he died, possibly because of a tooth
infection (43, p.53, 7, p.24). Although he lived about 1.5 Ma ago, the bone proportions are
similar to modern Africans, and unlike Neanderthals or modern Eskimos (7, p. 161).
A detailed account of the discovery and context are available in a popular-science book by
Walker, co-authored by his wife Pat Shipman, an anthropology professor: “It is my story,
but she wrote most of the words.” (7), p. xii). Turkana Boy was discovered by the hominin
fossil hunter Kamoya Kimeu. Here is how Walker and Shipman described the discovery
(46) p. 11):
He went to an improbable place, a little hill on the opposite bank of the sand river,
near a small acacia tree and a good-size salvadora tree. … Not only had the place
been trampled and scuffed and walked over, but it wasn’t much of an erosional
surface anyway, not a place to find fossils.
Kamoya went anyway. And amidst the litter of black lava pebbles and dried leaves
and sticks, he found a piece of hominid frontal bone. It was the size of a matchbook
and the color of the pebbles. Lord knows how he saw it. He picked it up because it
was lying loose on the surface, and then he turned it over. To him, it was obviously
a fragment of bone from the cranial vault, the bony covering of the brain. The inside
was smooth, from the impression of a large brain – not as it would be on a pig or
gazelle but as it would be on a hominid. He knew from the thickness that it was
Homo erectus, the species that immediately precedes modern humans.
How did Kimeu know that this piece was a Homo erectus, and not a modern human
fragment? And how did he know that more of the fossil could be found by digging in that
little hill? Since Kimeu began working for the Leakey family in 1960, he has shown an
uncanny ability to find sensational hominin fossils. He said on various occasions that
hominins talk to him in a mystical language, Kikishwa (7, p.22). Scientists think it is quaint
when people have unscientific beliefs.
Kimeu found the fragment on August 22, 1984, and reported to Alan Walker and Richard
Leakey, who were in Nairobi. They arrived the next day by private plane, to a landing strip
that Kimeu had previously prepared (7, p.12). Kimeu and his coworkers excavated the
skull bones in a few days, and nearly all the other bones within four weeks. The first
results were published in Nature in 1985 (44).
The skeleton is remarkable, because it lacks bones of the hands and feet. All the vertebrae
were present, except the upper six vertebrae of the neck. Why were these particular bones
not found?
Here is my hypothesis: The skeleton was not a Homo erectus at all. It was one of
thousands of children who had been killed and mutilated in the Congo Free State between
1885 and 1908. Those atrocities were carried out under orders of King Leopold II of
Belgium. To terrorize families, soldiers routinely cut off a hand or foot of a child. Hands
were delivered to the soldiers’ superiors, as proof of their work. Hundreds of Congo
children survived and many were photographed with a missing hand. But many others had
their heads, hands, and feet chopped off. These missing parts are a sort of fingerprint to
these Congo corpses. Maybe the ghost of one of these boys moved his bones to
Nariokotome, and then used the language Kikishwa to tell Kimeu where to find them.
Walker glued the fragments of the cranium (calvaria) in the field, working together with
Leakey’s wife (7, p.19). The pieces were “corrected by adjusting the glue joins.” They
made the braincase appropriate for a Homo erectus. Here is Walker’s description of that
process (45, p.328):
The calvaria was recovered from the disturbed surface sediment and desert lag at
Nariokotome. Only the facial skeleton was seen in situ and that was embedded in
the roots of an Acacia tree. The individual skull bones were assembled in the field
by gluing many fragments with Durofix (Rawlplug Ltd.) Most of the nearly 70 pieces
did not have much adhering matrix, but any still present was removed in the
laboratory using pneumatic Airscribes (Chicago Pneumatic Corp.) The individual
bones were then reassembled into the calvaria and the slight distortion in the
curvatures of the fossilied bones were corrected for as much as possible by
adjusting the glue joins.
The facial skeleton was said to be dug out of the 1.5 Ma layers, in other words in situ. But
this bone had roots of an Acacia tree growing in it. Roots grow in soil, and bones in soil
can only survive for a few thousand years at most. So I do not accept that this is in situ.
Photographs (42, p. 94b, 94c) of supposedly in situ bones show that they lie in coarse
deposits, not in the 1.5 Ma-old layers, which are fine-grained mudstone. These coarse
deposits would be moved and replaced during occasional floods in the Nariokotome River
within a few hundred years at most.
The 1.5 Ma mudstone layers were excavated after the bones were found (Fig. 7). Many
paleoanthropologists visited while the layers were being excavated in 1985-1988 (7, p.
23). Hippo, tortoise, and catfish bones were found in those layers, but nothing more of the
boy’s skeleton. The debris from this excavation was dumped in mounds, about where the
bones had been taken from the little hill in 1984 (Figs. 8, 9). The excavation documented
the geological and environmental conditions of the supposed source of the fossils.
By 1985 it was clear that the skeleton was missing hands and feet, and neck bones. Mary
Leakey thought that they might be found by further excavation (7, p.23). In 1986, Kimeu
and coworkers did find a few more bones, about 15 meters away from the little hill (see
Figs. 7, 8). They were hand, foot, and a vertebra, from a juvenile, just what was needed.
But Walker determined that they were not from Turkana Boy. I think he had to write about
these bones, because they were known to the others. But he wrote about them without
using the words hand, foot, or neck (43, p.46):
A word must be said here about three bones that may belong to the skeleton but !
were situated a long way from the main hominid concentration. These bones are
definitely metapodials of a juvenile mammal. If they are hominid, then two are first
metacarpals and the other is a first metatarsal. They were found in 1986 about 15
m northeast of the main hominid concentration. Nearby was an immature vertebra
that was thought to be hominid but, when cleaned, proved not to be. All three
metapodial bones are from immature individuals and lack their epiphyses and
articular ends. What remains of the details of morphology is sufficient to cast
doubt on their hominid status, but they cannot be securely placed in another
taxon either. That they were widely separated from the main concentration of
hominid bones is yet another hint that they might not belong to the hominid
skeleton. !
My hypothesis is that these new hand and foot bones, and one vertebra, came from the
grave of some other boy. I think they were planted to be discovered during the excavation
in 1986 to match the defective skeleton from the little hill. But they didn’t match. So we
have bones of two different juveniles here: one with no hands and feet, and the other with
no bones of the body, only hands and feet.
Fig. 8. Figure from (46, p. 22). The area of the orange parallelogram, redrawn from
folding Maps 1 and 2, includes all the bones of the skeleton. The orange circle indicates
the location of two hand-bones, one foot bone, and one vertebra from another juvenile.
Fig. 9. The piles of rock from excavations in 1986 cover the area where the bones of the
skeleton were found in 1984. (Photograph from 7, p.148b), with orange annotations added.
Modern bones are hard and porous and do not feel like fossils. But Walker made the
bones heavy and hard, by saturating them in plastic that filled the pores. He wrote: “The
bones are relatively hard, by and large, but a plastic preservative (vinyl acetate solution)
was used to make them stronger.” (42, p.434). This process also made it impossible for
anyone to later carry out carbon-14 dating, or DNA-analysis, or fluorine testing.
Experts who studied these bones were told that they were 1.5 Ma old. They were not given
evidence that might cause doubt. For example, the original teeth were not actually seen by
the expert who studied them. Casts of the teeth and jaw had been made in Nairobi, where
the originals were kept. Walker and Shipman had this statement from the expert: (7, p.
“They were really nice, sharp casts,” she remembered later, “quite beautiful. I could
see every tooth on at least one side. There were nice X rays of the mandible. You
could see everything.”
Turkana Boy was actually the second Homo erectus skeleton that was found. The first was
a mature woman, found east of Lake Turkana. Walker and Shipman wrote (7, p.128):
Kamoya first noticed the fragments of skull and teeth, which he knew immediately
were hominid, in 1973, though it took some years before we unraveled their
meaning. They were terribly broken up and they seemed to be scattered over an
area roughly the size of a football field. That was bad enough, but the area was
liberally sprinkled with other fossils too: crocodiles, turtles, hippos, antelopes,
elephants, giant baboons, and giraffes, all in hundreds of pieces. In all, the team
collected enough fossils to fill five museum drawers (wooden boxes about two and
a half feet long by one and a half feet wide) to a depth of several inches and left
piles of very large or otherwise obviously nonhominid bones at the site.
Like the Turkana Boy, this skeleton also turned out to be defective: all the bones, except
the skull, were damaged by excessive bone growth (7, p.128). Walker concluded that this
Homo erectus woman suffered from Hypervitaminosis A, a sickness that causes bone-
growth. Walker was impressed that as early as 1.5 Ma years ago, a sick woman was kept
alive by the care of others (7, p.134). I suspect that these were human bones from a
modern grave, and that the healthy skull bones belonged to a different individual, not the
woman with the diseased body. Did these bones come from the Congo? And the three
chimpanzee teeth that Kimeu found 30 years later (5, p.108) south of Lake Turkana – did
they come from the Congo, where chimpanzees currently live? It seems unlikely that
chimpanzees ever lived in the arid region of ancient Lake Turkana.
Together with the bone fragments of the sick Homo erectus woman, there were about
40,000 fragments (7, p.128) of crocodiles, turtles, hippos, antelopes, elephants, giant
baboons, and giraffes. Maybe these are still in five museum drawers and can be tested.
The larger bones were left in piles at the site and not saved – do fossil bones associated
with Homo erectus have so little value?
It does not seem geologically reasonable that such an assortment of bones and fragments
could occur in this way. I think that Kimeu was playing games with gullible scientists by
breaking and planting modern bones. Maybe if there had been some kangaroo bones,
scientists would have questioned whether any of them really belonged there. Kimeu has
been involved in the discovery of some of the world’s most important hominin bones,
beginning with the famous “Zinj” found by Mary Leakey in Olduvai Gorge in 1959.
Little-Foot (Sterkfontein Cave, South Africa)
In South Africa there is a region of limestone caves with crevasses and small openings to
the surface. Animals have fallen in and died. There are bones of large monkeys, hyenas,
leopards, and bovids. There may be human bones. Some of the bones were transported
by streams in the caves, some were covered by rock falls, and all are cemented by
limestone dripstone. Bones are visible in the cave walls, and more can be found by
excavating. Cave-fill of this type is chaotic, and dating is uncertain.
A few of the caves are being touted as The Cradle of Humankind. They are registered as
an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Sterkfontein Cave is currently the leading
paleoanthropological tourist attraction in Africa, with 15 guided tours a day, year round.
The most famous fossil from Sterkfontein is the skeleton called Little-Foot.
In the 1920's, miners blasted out some of the limestone. Bones lying outside of the caves
were taken away by visitors as souvenirs. In the 1970's, some of these bones were saved
at Wits University. In 1994 the paleoanthropologist Ronald J. Clarke found a few human-
like foot bones in storage, and then in 1997 he found more, including parts of lower legs at
the Wits University Medical School (48, video time 1:45). Foot bones of hominins are
typically missing. Clarke realized that with these human-like foot bones as a starting point,
he could make a more complete Australopithecus skeleton than any that had been made
Clarke explained the project in a lecture at CARTA, the Center for Academic Research and
Training in Anthropogeny, in California. The lecture is available on Youtube. Here is my
exact transcript of five minutes of his lecture (49) (video time 13:55-18:54) and three
screen shots (Fig. 10):
In 1978, miner's rubble such as this was removed from this very deep shaft, which
we call the Silberberg Grotto in Sterkfontein Cave. It was taken to the surface and
the fossils were developed out of it. They were cleaned out of the rocks and put
into bags and boxes.
One day in 1994 I was looking through one of these boxes when I found this ankle
bone that I recognized as being an Australopithecus ankle bone. And this was quite
astonishing because there were no other fossils, not even a single tooth or tooth
fragment, of an Australopithecus from that particular part of the cave.
And then I found more. There’s the ankle bone that I found among these the other
bones that fitted in front of it leading down to the big toe. And what was important
about it, as I said, that it showed that it had this slightly divergent big toe. Now at
the time I and Philip Tobias published this, and Owen Lovejoy was very skeptical,
and said we were, this was patently absurd to say it had a divergent big toe. But
now with Ardipithecus, he’s found that that has an even more divergent big toe.
Then in 1997, I found more of the same foot, several more foot bones, and the
lower part of a tibia, a shin bone. Not only, here they are put together, and
compared to the same region in a modern human foot and lower leg. Not only that,
but I found a piece of tibia from the other side, and part of another foot bone from
the other side.
So I had the lower legs and the feet from the left and the right side. And I said if
that’s the case, the rest of the skeleton must be down there in the cave. So I gave
this piece of tibia to my two assistants Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe and
said go into the cave with torches and see if you can find anywhere that that will fit
on. After one and a half days of searching, they found the spot. There’s the piece in
his hand and there’s where it fits on.
So we began excavating. There’s the slope on which it was found, just in this spot
here. We began excavating, and we uncovered the lower legs, up to the knee joints
here, and we uncovered the lower thigh bones. This is the radius of a monkey, lying
next to it.
And when we got up to here there was no more. And we carried on and we carried
on up the slope and didn’t find any more. And we were in a state of despair. And we
said "How can this be? You cannot have two lower legs side by side and not the
rest of the skeleton."
Figure 10. Screen shots of Clarke’s lecture on Youtube (49), with his green circles and
these spoken comments: "we uncovered the lower legs", "we uncovered the lower thigh
bones", "This is the radius of a monkey"
And obviously we couldn’t make this public. We worked in secrecy. We didn’t want
to make this public and make fools of ourselves by saying we’d got a complete
skeleton, when we’d only got the lower legs. So we kept looking and we kept
chiseling away month after month in this solid rock. This is solid very very hard
And then I realized that there was a cavity beneath this skeleton. And I
remembered this saying of Sherlock Holmes who said. “When you’ve eliminated
the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” And the
impossible was that there could not be any more of the skeleton. That was
impossible. It was unthinkable. It had to be there! So the improbable was that it
was situated beneath a thick layer of stalagmite.
We chiseled through that stalagmite, and we got the rest of the skeleton. Firstly the
skull. And these are the stages in revealing the skull. The back of the mandible
here and part of the cheekbone. And next to it was the upper arm bone, the
humerus. A bit more cleaning and a bit more and then we got this and then this is
the final stage of the cleaning. A complete skull with the jaw in articulation and the
humerus next to it.
We continued up the slope, and to our delight we got the arm and the hand. Here’s
my hand next to it for comparison, showing you how the fingers are curled across
the palm.
My hypothesis is that Little-Foot skeleton was put together from four different individuals:
1. From Wits University Medical School storage: Homo sapiens ankle-bones and foot-
bones. 2. From the cave: lower legs, knee joints, lower thigh bones, and an arm bone that
were all found together. Although the arm bone was in correct position relative to the legs,
Clarke could not use it, because it was too long. He did not say the word "arm”: it was "the
radius of a monkey". 3. From elsewhere in the cave: a skull and arm of suitable length. 4.
From a third location in the cave: another arm and a hand.
Clarke gave this lecture in 2010 to professional paleoanthropologists of CARTA. I doubt
that anyone asked about the monkey arm bone. Such a question would be uncomfortable
for paleoanthropologists. CARTA has decided not to include an aquatic-ape paper (4) on
their list of 2807 publications (50). That paper would be uncomfortable for
paleoanthropologists to read.
Clarke had the attitude of a successful paleoanthropologist: the fossils that we need must
exist, so we will do what we must to get them. "...that there could not be any more of the
skeleton. That was impossible. It was unthinkable. It had to be there!" He knew that with
the foot bones from the medical school they could eventually make a nearly complete
skeleton. But it took many months to find appropriate bones. "We worked in secrecy. We
didn’t want to make this public and make fools of ourselves by saying we’d got a complete
skeleton, when we’d only got the lower legs."
In 1979, Clarke had helped with the Laetoli footprint layer (his bare feet are seen in my
Fig. 3). There, too, they worked in secrecy. Then the layer was covered up, and the
secrecy was maintained.
Concluding remarks
For scientific claims that cannot be repeated or reproduced by impartial scientists, the
default hypothesis should be that the claims are incorrect or even possibly falsified. But in
paleoanthropology, there seems to be no place for this sort of normal scientific skepticism.
It is considered impolite or unprofessional for a paleoanthropologist to suggest that a
fossil-find might be a hoax.
I think that one-time fossil finds, especially surface-finds, should be highly suspect.The
bone material may be modern, like Piltdown Man, and therefore not too old for DNA-
analysis or carbon-14 dating. Hominin bones and other fossils from the same sedimentary
layers should be fluorine tested, to help demonstrate that the hominin bones actually came
from those layers.
The century-old story of human evolution on the savanna is a story. It is like a historical
fiction novel, in which details have been invented to make the story more educational,
interesting, and convincing to readers. Fossils have been needed to argue against the
unscientific belief in creationism. Only a few people have been aware of the false fossil
evidence that I have uncovered. Most paleoanthropologists have put doubts aside, to
publish papers that advance their careers within the paradigm of the science. Now we
have DNA analyses that convincingly prove human evolution, so fossils are no longer
needed for that purpose. It is time to actually test all of the claimed hominin fossils.
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The aquatic ape hypothesis for human evolution can account for all the traits that distinguish humans from chimpanzees. This scientific paradigm has been considered impossible. It would require that human ancestors maintained a semiaquatic lifestyle for millions of years, whereas hominin fossils indicate relatively dry terrestrial environments. Here I propose a marine aquatic evolution that is speculative, but compatible with all the fossil and genetic evidence. In this hypothesis, hominins evolved from chimpanzee-like apes that became stranded on proto-Bioko — new volcanic islands with no terrestrial foods available. The apes were forced to eat shellfish and seaweed. From wading in water on two legs to obtain food, their bodies evolved to become bipedal. Naked skin, blubber, and protruding noses were also aquatic adaptations. Brain-size increase resulted from marine fatty acid DHA. Some of these hominins escaped to mainland Africa and their bipedal descendants are recorded at the famous fossil sites. The volcanic islands grew and evolved into Bioko, and the hominins that remained there evolved into Homo sapiens. They gave up their marine diet and semiaquatic habitat after food became available on the evolving island. Then, during one of the low sea-level stands in the Pleistocene epoch, humans walked to the mainland on the emergent Bioko land bridge. Unlike earlier aquatic ape ideas, the Bioko scenario can be tested by DNA. If the human genome includes a retrovirus that is otherwise only found in endemic animals on Bioko, it would show that our ancestors came from there. Unfortunately, Bioko and west-central Africa are not interesting to traditional paleoanthropologists, because they do not contain fossils.
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Various hypotheses have been proposed for why the traits distinguishing humans from other primates originally evolved, and any given trait may have been explained both as an adaptation to different environments and as a result of demands from social organization or sexual selection. To find out how popular the different explanations are among scientists, we carried out an online survey among authors of recent scientific papers in journals covering relevant fields of science (paleoanthropology, paleontology, ecology, evolution, human biology). Some of the hypotheses were clearly more popular among the 1,266 respondents than others, but none was universally accepted or rejected. Even the most popular of the hypotheses were assessed “very likely” by <50% of the respondents, but many traits had 1–3 hypotheses that were found at least moderately likely by >70% of the respondents. An ordination of the hypotheses identified two strong gradients. Along one gradient, the hypotheses were sorted by their popularity, measured by the average credibility score given by the respondents. The second gradient separated all hypotheses postulating adaptation to swimming or diving into their own group. The average credibility scores given for different subgroups of the hypotheses were not related to respondent's age or number of publications authored. However, (paleo)anthropologists were more critical of all hypotheses, and much more critical of the water-related ones, than were respondents representing other fields of expertise. Although most respondents did not find the water-related hypotheses likely, only a small minority found them unscientific. The most popular hypotheses were based on inherent drivers; that is, they assumed the evolution of a trait to have been triggered by the prior emergence of another human-specific behavioral or morphological trait, but opinions differed as to which of the traits came first.
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ELife digest Fossil footprints are extremely useful tools in the palaeontological record. Their physical features can help to identify their makers, but can also be used to infer biological information. How did the track-maker move? How large was it? How fast was it going? Footprints of hominins (namely the group to which humans and our ancestors belong) are pretty rare. Nearly all of the hominin footprints discovered so far are attributed to species of the genus Homo, to which modern humans belong. The only exceptions are the footprints that were discovered in the 1970s at Laetoli (in Tanzania) on a cemented ash layer produced by a volcanic eruption. These are thought to have been made by three members of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis – the same species as the famous “Lucy” from Ethiopia – around 3.66 million years ago. The extent to which body shape and size varied between different members of Au. afarensis – for example, between males and females – has been the subject of a long debate among researchers. Based on the skeletal remains found so far in East Africa, some scholars believe that individuals only varied moderately, as in modern humans, while others state that it was pronounced, as in some modern apes like gorillas. Masao et al. have now unearthed new bipedal footprints from two individuals who were moving on the same surface and in the same direction as the three individuals who made the footprints documented in the 1970s. The estimated height of one of the new individuals (about 1.65 metres) greatly exceeds those previously published for Au. afarensis. This evidence supports the theory that body size varied considerably amongst individuals within the species. Masao et al. tentatively suggest that the new footprints can be considered as a whole with the 1970s ones. The tall individual may have been the dominant male of a larger group, the others smaller females and juveniles. Thus, considerable differences may have existed between males and females in these remote human ancestors, similar to modern gorillas. The newly discovered tracks are only 150 metres away from the previously discovered sets of footprints. This leaves open the possibility that additional tracks may be unearthed nearby that will further our knowledge about the variability and behaviour of our extinct ancestors. DOI:
We report on the radioisotopic age, formation, and preservation of a late Pleistocene human footprint site in northern Tanzania on the southern shore of Lake Natron near the village of Engare Sero. Over 400 human footprints, as well as tracks of zebra and bovid, are preserved in a series of volcaniclastic deposits. Based on field mapping along with geochemical and grain-size analyses, we propose that these deposits originated as proximal volcanic material from the nearby active volcano, Oldoinyo L'engai, and were then fluvially transported to the footprint site. Stable isotope results (δ18O and δ13C) suggest that the footprints were originally emplaced on a mudflat saturated by a freshwater spring and were later inundated by the rising alkaline waters of Lake Natron. We employed the 40Ar/39Ar and 14C dating methods to investigate the age of the site and determined that the footprint level is older than 5760 ± 30 yrs. BP and younger than 19.1 ± 3.1 ka. These radioisotopic ages are supported by stratigraphic correlations with previously documented debris avalanche deposits and the stable isotope signatures associated with the most recent highstand of Lake Natron, further constraining the age to latest Pleistocene. Since modern humans (Homo sapiens) were present in Africa ca. 200 ka, Engare Sero represents the most abundant and best-preserved footprint site of anatomically modern Homo sapiens currently known in Africa. Fossil footprints are a snapshot in time, recording behavior at a specific moment in history; but the actual duration of time captured by the snapshot is often not well defined. Through analog experiments, we constrain the depositional window in which the prints were made, buried, and ultimately preserved to within a few hours to days or months.
The human and animal remains discovered almost 100 years ago at Piltdown, near Lewes in Sussex were at the time hailed as the “missing link' between ape and man. It was not until 1953 that modern analysis conclusively revealed that they were instead part of an ingenious hoax. For the last 50 years people have speculated on the identity and possible motive of the Piltdown forger and many names have been put forward, often on little more than guesswork, hearsay or vague supposition. Now for the first time, the life and career of Piltdown's 'discoverer', Charles Dawson FSA FGS, is put under the microscope, with some rather startling conclusions. Piltdown, it would appear, was only one in a long line of hoaxes, frauds and academic deceptions, Dawson being responsible for at least 16 other archaeological forgeries during his lifetime.