Some things are just so damn strange even the mainstream can’t ignore it:
The Boskops had big eyes, child-like faces, and an average intelligence of around 150, making them geniuses among Homo sapiens.
In the autumn of 1913, two farmers were arguing about hominid skull fragments they had uncovered while digging a drainage ditch. The location was Boskop, a small town about 200 miles inland from the east coast of South Africa.
These Afrikaner farmers, to their lasting credit, had the presence of mind to notice that there was something distinctly odd about the bones. They brought the find to Frederick W. Fitz Simons, director of the Port Elizabeth Museum, in a small town at the tip of South Africa. The scientific community of South Africa was small, and before long the skull came to the attention of S. H. Haughton, one of the country’s few formally trained paleontologists. He reported his findings at a 1915 meeting of the Royal Society of South Africa. “The cranial capacity must have been very large,” he said, and “calculation by the method of Broca gives a minimum figure of 1,832 cc [cubic centimeters].” The Boskop skull, it would seem, housed a brain perhaps 25 percent or more larger than our own.
The idea that giant-brained people were not so long ago walking the dusty plains of South Africa was sufficiently shocking to draw in the luminaries back in England. Two of the most prominent anatomists of the day, both experts in the reconstruction of skulls, weighed in with opinions generally supportive of Haughton’s conclusions.
The Scottish scientist Robert Broom reported that “we get for the corrected cranial capacity of the Boskop skull the very remarkable figure of 1,980 cc.” Remarkable indeed: These measures say that the distance from Boskop to humans is greater than the distance between humans and their Homo erectus predecessors.
Might the very large Boskop skull be an aberration? Might it have been caused by hydrocephalus or some other disease? These questions were quickly preempted by new discoveries of more of these skulls.
As if the Boskop story were not already strange enough, the accumulation of additional remains revealed another bizarre feature: These people had small, childlike faces. Physical anthropologists use the term pedomorphosis to describe the retention of juvenile features into adulthood. This phenomenon is sometimes used to explain rapid evolutionary changes. For example, certain amphibians retain fishlike gills even when fully mature and past their water-inhabiting period. Humans are said by some to be pedomorphic compared with other primates.Our facial structure bears some resemblance to that of an immature ape. Boskop’s appearance may be described in terms of this trait. A typical current European adult, for instance, has a face that takes up roughly one-third of his overall cranium size. Boskop has a face that takes up only about one-fifth of his cranium size, closer to the proportions of a child. Examination of individual bones confirmed that the nose, cheeks, and jaw were all childlike.
The combination of a large cranium and immature face would look decidedly unusual to modern eyes, but not entirely unfamiliar. Such faces peer out from the covers of countless science fiction books and are often attached to “alien abductors” in movies. The naturalist Loren Eiseley made exactly this point in a lyrical and chilling passage from his popular book, The Immense Journey, describing a Boskop fossil:
“There’s just one thing we haven’t quite dared to mention. It’s this, and you won’t believe it. It’s all happened already. Back there in the past, ten thousand years ago. The man of the future, with the big brain, the small teeth. He lived in Africa. His brain was bigger than your brain. His face was straight and small, almost a child’s face.”
Boskops, then, were much talked and written about, by many of the most prominent figures in the fields of paleontology and anthropology.
Yet today, although Neanderthals and Homo erectus are widely known, Boskops are almost entirely forgotten. Some of our ancestors are clearly inferior to us, with smaller brains and apelike countenances. They’re easy to make fun of and easy to accept as our precursors. In contrast, the very fact of an ancient ancestor like Boskop, who appears un-apelike and in fact in most ways seems to have had characteristics superior to ours, was destined never to be popular.
Sometimes evolution doesn’t reward the quickest, prettiest or smartest with another chance to breed.
Sometimes it’s the species with the most cunning and guile.
Earlier this week, Professor Steve Jones made an audacious claim by stating the following:
…In ancient times half our children would have died by the age of twenty. Now, in the Western world, 98% of them are surviving to the age of 21. Our life expectancy is now so good that eliminating all accidents and infectious diseases would only raise it by a further two years. Natural selection no longer has death as a handy tool…
Hmmm, human evolution is slowing down because we’re not dying off so young anymore. Okay, maybe that’s true. But the Prof doesn’t stop there:
…Small populations which are isolated can change – evolve – at random as genes are accidentally lost. Worldwide, all populations are becoming connected and the opportunity for random change is dwindling. History is made in bed, but nowadays the beds are getting closer together. Almost everywhere, inbreeding is becoming less common. In Britain, one marriage in fifty or so is between members of a different ethnic group, and the country is one of the most sexually open in the world. We are mixing into a global mass, and the future is brown.”
He added: “So, if you are worried about what utopia is going to be like, don’t; at least in the developed world, and at least for the time being, you are living in it now.”
“We are mixing into a global mass, and the future is brown.” Uh, sure. Tell us something we don’t already know.
It’s no-brainer that Caucasian people in the United States will be a minority by 2050. Not a big deal in my view.
Then again I’m not a KKKer, neo-nazi or a Dominionist Fundie either. But I digress and the point of Jones’ argument is that as the worlds’ population becomes more homogenous, evolution slows down or stops.
I really doubt that hypothesis, and not only because he claims that we’re in an evolutionary “utopia” now.
If this is utopia, what’s this guys’ definition of Purgatory?
Anyways, an article by Johnjoe McFadden in the guardian.co.uk makes the claim that selective genetic engineering will bring a flowering of human variety, free of death and disease:
Modifying heritable genes is presently considered to be unacceptable, at least in humans, because we would be tinkering with our genetic inheritance. But is that such a bad thing? Our genes are the products of billions of years of evolution – chance mutations – that were selected because they provided an advantage to one or more of our ancestors. But sometimes, random mutations can damage our genes. If that damage is in a skin or muscle cell then it won’t be a problem (at least not to our children). But if the damaged gene is in an egg or sperm cell that our children will inherit the damaged gene and may suffer a genetic disease. If they have children (perhaps before knowing they are carrying a genetic defect) then their children may also be afflicted. Given enough evolutionary time, it is likely that unchecked natural selection would eventually remove damaged genes from the population; but should we wait that long? Thousands of children are born each year with defects, such as heart problems, that we have no hesitation in correcting. If we have the technology to correct defects in their genes then isn’t it in the interests of the common good to do so?
Gene therapy of human genetic diseases in affected embryos is almost certainly within reach. The team that gave us Dolly the sheep also generated Polly the sheep, the world’s first transgenic animal, in 1997. Polly’s DNA was engineered, while she was still an embryo, to contain a copy of a human gene. It is likely that similar approaches could be used to correct gene defects in human embryos.
But why should we stop with deadly diseases? Wouldn’t you want your children to also have a longer life with lower risk of cancer or heart disease? With more genes linked to common diseases turning up every day, it won’t be too long before gene therapy is available to screen out even common ailments. If the technology was available to ensure that your children lived their lives free of cancer, wouldn’t you take it?
Well, I’d be first in line for gene tailored meds to cure the chronic crap illnesses I have, McFadden would get no argument from me!
But would specialized genetic engineering spur new evolution in human beings?
I believe it could, if humans expanded out into the Solar System and interstellar space.
Mars? Why bother with space suits. Engineer humans to breath thin carbon dioxide air, grow thick skin to combat solar radiation and sprout solar “wings” to collect sunlight for food!
Micro-gravity a problem? Engineer an extra two-chamber heart in the groin area to pump blood more evenly, activate genes to make more bone calcium and muscle mass and engineer antibodies to resist cosmic radiation!
You get my point.
Yeah, I know, more space geek shit. But hey, this could help herald a new ‘Cambrian Explosion!’