Apes Or Humans?:
For one, try this on for size, "apes" do not exist. Not really. "Ape" is a category we humans made up to group tailless primate species together. God didn't just create "apes". God created Orangutans, Gibbons, Bonobos, Chimpanzees, and Gorillas, along with many creatures that are extinct today (such as Gigantopithecus) that we group together as "apes". But that isn't an objective entity, just a man-made construct.
So really, whether you want to call hominids "apes" or not isn't relevant. Categorize them how you wish...they are just creatures that existed. Personally, I simply separate them as their own group called "hominids", as many anthropologists do. The term is to be understood as a non-homo-sapiens bipedal primate.
Many hominid species are equally, if not more, distinct from one another as different "ape" species are today. God didn't simply create "hominids" either, he created a multitude of creatures we call hominids.
As for human or not, the term "human" is used in very strange ways in anthropology. I once heard an anthropologist use the word "human" to mean two different things (members of the genus "homo" and the species "homo sapiens sapiens, modern humans" respectively) in the same paragraph. In fact here are the various definitions of "human" used in anthropology:
1. Homo Sapiens Sapiens, Within the variation seen in modern human groups (Australian Aborigines, Europeans, Asians, Amerindians, etc.)
2. Homo Sapiens, which in of itself is a loose term, either referring to both Idaltu (as discussed before) and modern humans, or including Neanderthals, Heidelbergensis, and Denisovans.
3. Members of the genus "Homo", meaning Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, Homo Floresiensis, etc.
4. Any primate that walks on two legs, including Australopithecus, Ardipithecus, etc.
5. Any creature that (allegedly) is more closely related to modern humans than chimpanzees & bonobos.
When I say "human" I am *always* referring to our species (number 1 on my list). So, bear that in mind as we continue.
The Problem With Modern "Forensic" Reconstructions:
People look at "forensic" reconstructions of Homo Sapiens Idaltu and Neanderthals, or even Homo Erectus and Homo Naledi. They see how human-like they are, and refuse to believe that these creatures aren't human beings (descendants of Adam).
This is a faulty belief but understandable. After all, these reconstructions are "forensic"! But the problem is, forensic reconstructions of hominids will *always* be more human-like than they really were.
Remember, these reconstructions involve pasting the models of human flesh, muscle, cartilage, and hair onto the hominid bones. But if the bones are so different, you can't reasonably expect those features to be the same as in humans.
As I discussed before, modern humans possess a certain amount of variation, this includes both bone, hair, and soft tissue. The variation of skin texture and thickness, muscle mass, hair texture, etc is enough that current reconstructions of humans must be based on their ethnicity and gender.
They simply grafted the equivalent of modern African tissue onto the skull of an Idaltu. It shouldn't surprise anyone that they look so human.
The truth is, most likely no hominid reconstruction is truly accurate. Not a single hominid species has ever been found with preserved soft-tissue of any kind. And we can't really make a good guess at what most of the soft tissue really looked like.
Maybe in the future we will discover some hominid soft-tissue, maybe even a frozen hominid (I mean we have found frozen mammoths). I hope so...
Why We Are Human:
Humans have a unique soul and are made in the Imago Dei, the image of God. This (perhaps contrary to popular belief) is not something put in us, but rather a status bestowed upon us. We are given authority over the planet Earth by the creator, and are to care for it as his representatives on Earth.
God gave us unique capacities that allow us to act as his representatives, such as:
1. Spirituality - the ability to relate to God (and against his wishes, other spiritual beings, such as demons)
2. Moral capacity - the ability to tell right from wrong, and make moral judgements. Animals lack this capacity, but humans possess it.
3. Symbolic/Abstract thought - we can make writings and art because we have the unique capacity of symbolism, to understand things that represent other things. This same thought allows us to understand things beyond the scope of animal thought, such as mathematics, quantum mechanics, relativity, and astronomy.
These capacities make us unique and separate from the animal kingdom. How "human" these hominids looked ultimately has no bearing. If they lacked these capacities, they are just higher animals, no different than a chimp or an elephant.
This raises a problem however...how do we detect these capacities in the fossil record? Doesn't this make us blind to whether or not a particular hominid species is really a human?
No. We can look for evidence of activities that reflect these capacities. Art, music, and religion are the key factors. I would argue innovation would be another major aspect. The ability to accumulate new knowledge and further advance your technology is a distinctly human feature that reflects our distinct capabilities.
Homo Or Not?
For the most part, I consider the distinction to be largely outdated, and all hominids should be considered "homo", but I still use it the old way so people understand me better.
It used to be believed (and is still occasionally believed today) that early hominids like Australopithecus were only semi-bipedal, whereas Homo Erectus was fully bipedal. "Homo" would then refer only to fully-bipedal hominids.
Recent studies have shown that these hominids likely were indeed fully bipedal, but also had capacity for tree-climbing that limited their running abilities. But were really no better at knuckle walking than humans are. And would walk basically identical to how we walk. Rendering the distinction mute.
At this point, those who still cling to the distinction between "Homo" and other hominids simply draw an arbitrary line in the sand based on how "human-like" the species is and when it appears.
Age: ~7,000,000 years old
So, the oldest known hominid is Sahelanthropus Tchadensis at 7 million years old. We have just one fossil of Sahelanthropus and it is a skull that lacks a jaw.
As you can see to the left, they had a huge brow-ridge. Much larger than any human today has, or even that any modern ape has.
This is important because if you are bipedal, and your spine entered in the back like an ape, you would have to crane your neck forward to look ahead of you. Which, if you have ever done this for an extended period of time, you know is uncomfortable.
It's uncomfortable because it's straining. If you did this regularly it would be damaging. A bipedal creature with a foramen magnum in the back of the skull would be extremely inefficient, and would quickly go extinct. The same goes for a knuckle-walking ape with a foramen magnum on the bottom of the skull.
Since the foramen magnum in Sahelanthropus is on the bottom of the skull, it is most likely that Sahelanthropus was indeed a bipedal hominid. Unfortunately, we really don't know much more than that about Sahelanthropus. As only the top half of a skull was preserved.
What is notable about Sahelanthropus is that it (along with the next on our list, Ardipithecus) is a bipedal hominid dating back to before the Australopithecines.
These hominid species severely damage the previous theory of human evolution. Which is that a shift in climate from jungle to savannah in Africa forced some native apes to adapt to savannah-living through developing bipedalism.
However, Sahelanthropus and Ardipithecus are bipedal hominids that lived in a jungle-type environment, rather than a savannah. This has forcing new theories to emerge. More chaos for evolutionary theories is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned.
Age: ~5,600,000 - 4,400,000 Years Old
Ardipithecus has a foramen magnum firmly situated on the bottom of the skull, suggesting, it was bipedal.
But we also have post-cranial (other than the skull) remains of Ardipithecus such as femurs, footbones, a pelvis, etc. This further confirms Ardipithecus was bipedal, much like later hominids and Sahelanthropus.
Ardipithecus likely was mostly herbivorous, having an ape-like diet which consisted almost entirely of plants and insects. This is characteristic of all pre-Erectine hominids. Any meat they consumed would have been from small mollusks and insects, or scavenged from dead carcasses. They simply were not built for predation.
If you look at the Ardipithecus skeleton, you will see that it had very long arms and large shoulders, also characteristic of its tree-climbing abilities. I found this fascinating, as it means these creatures would have walked like a human on the ground, but then swung from trees like an orangutan.
It's likely that Ardipithecus climbed down from trees to forage for food, but used its tree-climbing capability to avoid predators. This makes Ardipithecus a very unique hominid, standing out from the rest.
Age: ~2,700,000 - 1,200,000 Years Old
Location: East Africa
Paranthropus is an interesting hominid, though, not particularly relevant to the Evolution VS. Creationism discussion. Even evolutionists do not propose that Paranthropus was a human ancestor. They consider it a side branch of some earlier hominid.
It is interesting that Paranthropus skull proportions are quite similar to a Gorilla. The main differences would be the foramen magnum and the small, flatter cheekbones. So, if Paranthropus were still around today, they would likely look something like a bipedal Gorilla.
The diet of Paranthropus was similar to that of gorillas as well...built for consuming large amounts of vegetation. With a powerful jaw and a sagittal crest (a ridge on top of the skull where muscles connected to the jaw attach), allowing them to chew tough vegetation.
Addendum: Some consider Paranthropus to be a genus consisting of three species, Aethopithecus, Robustus, and Bosei. I do not.
Age: ~3,900,000 - 2,000,000 Years Old
Location: East Africa
Australopithecus Afarensis was (at least for a time) the poster-child for human evolution. With the well preserved, and well known, skeleton "Lucy" bearing a mix of human-like and ape-like characteristics.
That being said, the Afarensines had a brain size only slightly larger than a human and likely ate mostly grass and leaves, indicating behavior similar to that of an ape. And you could probably chalk the brain size up to increased body size, not increased intelligence.
So, if anyone asks you "Why would God create Australopithecus Afarensis?" say, "To fill the ape niche in a savannah-like environment". Got it? Good.
Hominid A has an ape-like face and a human-like body.
Hominid B has a more human-like face and an ape-like body.
So which is the link? They are both mutually exclusive. It's not like you can say one is the ancestor to another, especially considering many hominids like this are dated to the same age.
Sediba demonstrates this. It's features are a mosaic of early "homo" hominids like Homo Erectus, and Australopithecines like Afarensis and Paranthropus. But it isn't the same mosaic as another hominid we will get to next, Homo Habilis. They are inconsistent.
If you accept biological evolution, one of these species has to be a side-branch...a dead-end. If you have to discard it as a dead-end, you can't really consider it evidence for human evolution can you? It's just a creature that existed and is now extinct.
That, and the fact that the human-like features the "dead-end" possesses, must be considered an example of convergence (where a creature independently develops an identical or near-identical characteristic). This should be impossible given the small probability of random mutations producing the same feature twice.
Sediba also gives me an opportunity to discuss something else...hominid tool-use. Yes, Sediba did make extremely crude stone-tools. But this shouldn't disturb creationists. After all, crows make tools, bonobos make tools, chimps build complex nests and make spears.
So, if some hominids made some basic stone tools, so what? It should be noted that tool use of Erectines, Floresines, Habilines, and Sediba pretty much consisted of taking a hard rock and bashing a softer rock into a desired shape. Not exactly worthy of calling them human beings, is it?
Addendum: I am lumping Sediba and Africanus together, as I don't see warrant for their distinct species classification.
Age: ~2,100,000 - 1,500,000 Years Old
Location: East Africa
Homo Habilis is a mid-era hominid that lived in Eastern Africa. We have sites from Northern Ethiopia to South Africa.
Habilis bears a mix of characteristics from earlier hominids (such as Austrolopithicenes) and later hominids like Homo Erectus. There is actually debate over whether they should be called "Homo Habilis" or "Australopithecus Habilis".
Due to it's mixed characteristics, evolutionists mostly say that Habilis is a transitional intermediate between Australopithecus (Sediba or Afarensis?) and Homo Erectus.
But given that Homo Habilis has a more pronounced jaw than Sediba, and we have other hominids (such as Naledi) that appear to be intermediates between Australopithecines and Erectines, but with completely different mosaics of characteristics, evolutionists can't really agree on whether Habilis is a missing link, or a dead end.
This kind of chaos and confusion is expected if there really is no evolutionary tree and each of these species is specially designed by God, but it makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective. If a theory is true, new finds should (on average) reduce chaos and make the theory more apparent. This is not true with macroevolution.
One last thing to point out about Habilis, or rather, including Habilis. This is an example of not one, not two, but three hominid species living in the same place at the same time...Habilis, Sediba, and Paranthropus.
If you look at the locations where fossils have been found, and the dates of the youngest and oldest fossils for each species, you will see that all three species lived in East Africa simultaneously ~2,000,000 years ago for hundreds of thousands of years straight.
This is possible because each species possesses a distinct ecological niche: Sediba specializing in soft vegetation, Paranthropus specializing in consuming large amounts of tough vegetation and Habilis both eating some vegetation and scavenging meat from carcasses.
This just goes to show that these creatures are not human beings but part of the East African fauna at the time and fitting into the ecosystem in exquisitely designed ways.
Location: South Africa
Homo Naledi is a recent discovery (just last year, 2015!) in South Africa, and as of writing this, the date for the site is anywhere from 3,000,000 years old, to 50,000 years old.
This hominid bears a mix of Erectine and Australopithecine characteristics.
Much like earlier Australopithecines, Naledi had features for both tree-climbing and running bipedally. They also had a skull that more closely resembles Erectus than the Australopithecines. Although, with a large protruding jaw and an almost neanderthal-like back of the skull.
Regardless of what it's date turns out to be, I think Homo Naledi is a good thing for old-earth creationism as opposed to evolution. Why? Because it has a strange mosaic of features from many different hominid species that make it extremely difficult to place in the alleged human evolutionary tree.
But from a creationist perspective, Naledi poses no problems. It was a creature God created at one point in the past to fill a particular ecological niche, and he gave it a mosaic of characteristics to best fill that role. We wouldn't expect there to be clear-cut evolutionary relationships between these species.
And what do you know? The anthropological community is a mess. There is a ton of debate over how to build trees with these hominids. No two anthropologists will give you the exact same answer. This is exactly what you would expect from a creationist perspective.
One last thing to cover about Naledi. Many like to make a fuss about the claim that they were deliberately disposing of their dead. The same claim has been made about Neanderthals, and it seems to some people that this flies in the face of the view that Hominids were non-human animals.
But this is actually a faulty conclusion to jump to. The problem is, similar behavior has been observed in some birds, chimpanzees, and elephants. Animals are created by God with emotional capacity, this includes the ability to grieve. This doesn't mean that the Hominids (or the animals alive today) truly understand death, or know of the afterlife. They are simply grieving for their lost family.
So yes, at least some hominids occasionally buried their dead but that doesn't make them human. It just makes them emotional creatures like many we still have around today.
Homo Floresiensis (Floresines):
Location: Island of Flores in Indonesia
Homo Floresiensis (or the Floresines, as I like to call them for short) is a strange hominid that lived in Indonesia relatively recently. Recently meaning that they likely co-existed with modern humans for a time...seeing as humans can be placed in Indonesia by at least 40,000 years ago.
Oh, and did I mention they were tiny? Only about 3 ft 6 inches for a full-grown male. If these creatures were still around, they would surely be one of the more interesting exhibits at your local zoo.
Like the Erectines, it would seem they used fire and made basic stone tools for scraping meat off of bones and extracting marrow.
One last thing I want to note about the Floresines, they had no bone-ridges around their noses, much like all the hominids we have covered before, but unlike the last four we are about to cover. Humans do have these bone-ridges.
The lack of bone ridges around the nose indicates they lacked protruding noses like humans, and instead had flat ape-like noses. This is different from the next four hominids who had a more human-like nose.
Age: ~1,800,000 - ? Years Old (Extinction date disputed)
Location: Africa, Arabia, Southern Europe, South Asia & Indonesia
Homo Erectus, which I have nicknamed the Erectines, are a diverse hominid species that had a range that extended throughout the eastern hemisphere. Only stopping where there were large swaths of water and/or very cold climates.
This was due to an early Erectine site found in the country of Georgia that dated to ~1.8 million years old. It had many Erectine skulls, all dated to the same age, and at the same cave, showing marked differences from each other. This showed that the Erectines were simply a very diverse species, possibly with a large amount of sexual dimorphism.
So, Erectines were simply a more variable species than humans. But assuming Erectines were roughly equally variable to humans, anthropologists mistakenly divided Erectines up into many different species. Yet another place where making comparisons to humans (by definition, anthropomorphizing) in hominids comes back to bite you.
This makes the Erectines one of the, if not the only, hominids to diversify into different "subspecies" or "races".
This isn't the only unique thing about the Erectines. They (unlike earlier hominids) had a diet that consisted mainly of meat from game they cooperatively hunted. Homo Erectus was a predatory hominid that knew how to hunt large creatures like antelope and bison.
Erectine tool-use does differ from earlier hominids, but this may not necessarily be a mark of increased intelligence, but rather a mark of a different lifestyle. Earlier hominids (like apes) survived mainly on vegetation and insects. Their tools were geared appropriately. Erectines made tools for cracking open bone to get to the marrow, hand-axes for slicing meat off carcasses, etc.
It would seem that Erectine tool-use remained unchanged throughout their existence. This is seen with all hominids. Individual species have different tool-making capacities relative to one-another. But within species, no varying cultures exist and no development occurs over thousands and in some cases, millions of years.
It is similar to how birds build nests and forage for food. The behavior is built-in and is static within species. Variations are only seen between different species. This is in stark contrast with human tool-use, which is in constant development. Humans have many different cultures, all with different practices. Just another piece of evidence towards the "hominids are non-human animals" view.
There is one last thing about the Erectines that acts as a stumbling block to the "non-human" view for some. And that is, in three words, "use of fire". Yes, Homo Erectus did use fire, as did later hominids like Floresiensis, Neanderthals, and Archaic-Sapiens.
But does this really make them human? It isn't as if fire-use is a uniquely human characteristic. It's simply a form of tool-use. It doesn't require any special kind of thought that humans possess and animals don't. Probably the only reason earlier hominids didn't use fire is because they didn't need too. Eating only plants and insects, fire wouldn't be a big enough boost to their lifestyle for them to learn it.
We don't really know what method any fire-using hominids used to start their fires. Maybe they used flint and pyrite, maybe they used a simple trough-method. Who knows? But fire doesn't require symbolic thought, spirituality, or anything other than the same kind of planning already observed in apes and Corvid birds (crows, ravens, blue jays, etc.) today.
To any of my fellow Christians that think fire-use makes the Erectines human, I ask you: Where in the bible does God say to Adam "You alone will harness the power of fire!". He doesn't...No animal today makes fire, but that doesn't mean some of God's now-extinct creations couldn't do it.
Pre-Neanderthal European Hominids:
Several species have been proposed...Homo Heidelbergensis and Homo Antecessor namely. But then, given the wide variation in Homo Erectus many simply consider these species European variations or "races" of Homo Erectus.
And several "Homo Heidelbergensis" sites seem to actually be within the bounds of variation seen in Neanderthals. This may indicate that all these European hominids (besides Neanderthals of course) might be fictional after all.
As for me, I am more of a lumper than a splitter. So, until I see some compelling evidence of a new species, I operate under the assumption that it was just Homo Erectus, and later Neanderthals, that lived in Europe. There really isn't any compelling evidence for other hominid species in Europe as of the time of this writing.
But make no mistake, there is a lot of confusion about early European hominids. And exactly what really happened is highly contested because the fossil record is so sparse.
Homo Neanderthalensis (Neanderthals):
Age: ~430,000 - ~28,000 years old
Location: Europe, Western Siberia, Zagros Mountains, and The Levant
Neanderthals were a later hominid that was designed to live in a cold climate. They had a large nose, large round eyes, and a huge jaw.
Neanderthals had short, thick limbs for their body size, and had broad fingers and toes.
Unlike in humans, Neanderthal brains were geared more towards their senses and movement than intelligence. This is hinted at by the shape of their skull. They had a receding forehead and an elongated skull towards the back, indicating a smaller frontal lobe (which involves language, moral reasoning, and social behavior) and a larger occipital lobe (which processes visual information).
For some reason, popular news articles, along with just random members of the public, like to exaggerate Neanderthal intelligence. What I mean is, when some researcher publishes a paper arguing for more intelligent Neanderthal behavior, they receive a lot of attention and are praised by the public.
But when a researcher publishes a paper that points out the marked differences between Neanderthal sites and early human sites, or when they debunk previous papers regarding Neanderthal intelligence, they are mostly ignored by the public, and if they are payed attention, it's usually negative.
Evidence for complex behaviors among Neanderthals simply do not hold up to scrutiny, despite what the public seems to desire (for some reason). Almost every paper attempting to prove these behaviors has been refuted afterwards (the couple that haven't are so recent that refutations haven't been published yet).
When you hear about a study that claims Neanderthals were more intelligent, run it through this little test:
1. What is the date on the find? If it's younger than 50,000 years old, it can safely be ignored. Modern humans had already migrated into the Neanderthal range *at least* ~45,000 years ago. So any find from that time forward could just as easily be a human artifact.
Thus, this isn't compelling evidence for advanced Neanderthal behavior. The researchers in question likely are simply choosing Neanderthals because it makes their paper more interesting, which in turn, gets them more grants.
2. Do other animals today engage in the behavior they claim Neanderthals were engaged in? If so, Neanderthals can't be said to be more human can they?
3. Look for critiques of the paper. Some papers use faulty dating methods and don't take into account mixing of geological layers. This is always a good idea before jumping to conclusions.
To my knowledge, none of the previous claims for Neanderthal intelligence hold up to this test. Which is why, despite the picture the news likes to paint, many anthropologists still consider Neanderthals greatly inferior to modern humans in intelligence.
Yet, if Neanderthals really were as intelligent as some people seem to think (many consider them as smart as humans) these tests should easily be passed many times.
After all, we have hundreds of Neanderthal sites going back as far as 430,000 years ago. It shouldn't be hard to find evidence of art, jewelry, etc. older than 50,000 years if they really were engaged in the production of such artifacts. Yet most claims for Neanderthal intelligence come from the period of overlap between humans and Neanderthals in Europe.
Humans do many things animals simply don't do, so number 2 on the test shouldn't be hard if Neanderthals really are people. In addition, lots of things simply aren't refuted by further papers when they actually are correct, so 3 shouldn't be that hard either.
My point is that the "evidence" for Neanderthal intelligence just does not hold up to scrutiny. Neanderthals intelligence differs from say, chimpanzees, in degree, not kind. However, humans differ with chimpanzees in kind.
Think of it this way...Neanderthals have none of the capacities that make humans unique from the animal kingdom. They may have a higher quality of capabilities that are already within the animal kingdom but this still doesn't make them human. Their tool use is more advanced, but it's still just tool use. It's not art, music, spirituality, abstract thought, etc.
I find it interesting that Neanderthal remains are limited to only cold regions. We don't find Neanderthal remains in Africa or Southern Asia. We find other hominids there, but not Neanderthals. We do find Neanderthal sites in the Levant, but only during colder periods in Earth's history.
During warm interglacials, like we have today, the Neanderthal range retreated northward, and the Archaic-Sapiens (which we will get to next) take over the Levant region. The pattern operates like this:
Cold Period (Prior to 125,000 BP): Neanderthals in Levant, no sign of Archaic-Sapiens
Warm Period (125,000 BP - 80,000 BP): Archaic-Sapiens remains in the Levant, no Neanderthal remains found
Cold Period (After 80,000 BP): Neanderthals return, no Archaic-Sapiens remains
Human Arrival (~55,000 BP): Humans arrive and ultimately drive Neanderthals extinct in the region, still a cold period in the climate (temperature is actually still declining at this point).
As I will discuss with the next section on Archaic-Sapiens, they had tool-making abilities quite similar to that of the Neanderthals, and still lacked the capacity to make art. They filled a similar ecological-niche, if you will.
This would make Neanderthals and Archaic-Sapiens like brown bears and polar bears, a warm-weather and cold-weather counterpart to one another. This is seen all over the animal kingdom with:
Woolly Mammoths (now extinct) and Elephants
Woolly Rhinos (now extinct) and Rhinos
Wolves and Coyotes
Snow Leopards and Leopards
Snow Owls and Owls
This is also seen with many extinct animals. This easily fits within old-earth creationism, as God designs species to fill an ecological niche in both warm and cold climates.
But humans don't operate like this. We can go wherever we please. We aren't restricted by the ecosystem. We aren't at the mercy of the climate. These hominids, it would seem, are. Fitting once again with the premise that Hominids are only anatomically human-like but they are not people.
Homo Altai (Denisovans):
We do know they lived at high elevations, backed up by the fact that the Denisovan remains we have found are in quite mountainous regions.
Their Mitochondrial DNA differs from ours by ~385 bases, whereas Neanderthals differ from us by ~202 bases, and modern chimpanzees differ from us by ~1,462 bases.
The morphology of the few denisovan remains we have (a finger bone and some teeth, along with a skull from a possible hybrid) along with the genome, tell us that this is a distinct species of hominid with novel characteristics. Problem is, we don't know much about them. Let's hope for more information in the future!
Homo Sapiens Idaltu (Or Homo Idaltu):
Location: Africa and the Arabian Peninsula
This is the term for "Homo Sapiens" that do not possess a fully modern range of characteristics. Originally attributed to the Herto specimen in Ethiopia (~160,000 years old). Being outside the realm of variation in modern humans, but still significantly more similar to us than Neanderthals.
These creatures existed at least as far back as 200,000 years ago, and up to around 75,000 years ago (correlating with the Toba Supervolcano Eruption). Their remains have been found in both Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They display a level of intellect roughly on par with the Neanderthals, using prepared-core methods of stone tool manufacture.
Some have argued, based on two sites mainly (Qafzeh and Blombos) that these "Idaltu" were actually more behaviorally modern than we thought. At Blombos (~75k BP) and Qafzeh (~90k BP) we have shells with holes in them. Some think this could be bead-based jewelry.
At Blombos, we also have a piece of Red Ocher that is etched with "X" marks and lines. Some consider this an ancient piece of art, while others consider it open to interpretation. Some believe the Blombos site could be mis-dated, including myself. (The tools at blombos also more closely resemble modern human tools from ~45,000 BP than they do Idaltu tools)
Blombos has been dated using thermoluminescence-based methods, which are not as reliable as radiometric methods (like carbon-14 dating). This also lead to the somewhat famous (in anthropological circles, anyways) example of the Mungo Man, a modern human in Australia originally dated to ~70,000 years old. He was shown to be significantly younger due to the age of the layers of rock he was found in...only about ~40,000 years old.
As there are no remains at Blombos, this site could be similarly mis-dated, and only be ~50,000 years old, if that.
And even if it is dated correctly, there are still alternate explanations. Richard G. Klein has put forward critiques of these Idaltu sites. Particularly with regard to the "jewelry". He points out that the holes on these "beads" are on the thinnest part of the shell, and there is no wear from string or cords. Just holes. Meaning, it's entirely possible these shells were simply damaged by natural process and not a human hand.
Also, I think it's worth noting that we really don't know how "human" these creatures really looked. We have hundreds of Neanderthal sites, but less than a dozen Idaltu sites. We have a few skulls, a few toe bones, and a couple other miscellaneous bones. But to my knowledge, we have yet to find a pelvis, a thorax, an arm-bone, or hands/fingers for these creatures.
Who knows? Maybe they were even less human-like than the Neanderthals!
I wrote an article on Idaltu before, here is a link to it.
Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Modern Humans):
At this time, humans were rapidly migrating around the world from a single origin point. From a biblical perspective, I would say these are the original post-flood descendants of Noah scattering around the world after the Tower Of Babel event.
This is associated with a huge explosion of modern human behavior that simply cannot be understated. The record in Europe is especially thorough. There are literally hundreds of sites around the world from ~40,000 years ago, showing evidence of many uniquely human behaviors. That are simply non-existent in hominid sites.
Simple musical instruments, like flutes, animal domestication, definitive jewelry, spectacular cave paintings, more sophisticated tool use, spatial organization of campsites, dwelling huts, clothing, projectile weapons like bows, religious burials, the list goes on and on. These were without doubt, people like you and me, descendants of Adam.
This just goes to show the bible is right...humans are unique. These hominids may make crude stone tools, and even fire. But they lack symbolic/abstract thought and the ability to innovate.
Because humans were confined to one region prior to the flood (as discussed before), and the huge scattering that took place after Babel, it's safe to say these people are from the post-flood era. Hopefully, we will find some evidence of pre-flood people in the Persian Gulf region soon!
About That Interbreeding...
To some, this would seem threatening to the Christian worldview (at least if you assume Neanderthals and Denisovans were animals and not human beings with the Image of God). I once heard someone say "Biological reality check: humans cannot interbreed with non-humans!".
My answer to this idea is: Why? Why can't humans interbreed with non-humans? Genesis clearly describes humans interbreeding with fallen angels and producing the Nephilim. Fallen angels are certainly not humans. So what's the big deal?
Different species interbreed all the time, horses and donkeys make a mule, lions and tigers make ligers, wolves and coyotes make coywolves, etc.
I mean, the Image of God is a status put on us by God, and you can't have half a status. So either the initial Neanderthal human-hybrids had the Image of God, or they didn't. It's safe to say all modern humans, even those with relatively high amounts of hominid DNA are fully human and have the Image of God. Given that Jewish people would be among those who have Neanderthal DNA, yet God chose them to be his people for a time.
Much like the Image of God, I believe the human soul is indivisible. Hybrids either have a fully human soul, or an animal soul. There is no mixed soul. There is no problem. It's certainly a question as to at what amount of DNA does a human become an animal. But not a question that should make us uncomfortable, let alone make us irrationally reject a strong scientific study.
And at the end of the day, these genes don't mean much. The highest number I was able to find was 7% total in an individual with both Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA. So, it's not much. It only would have a few minor effects on appearance. So, don't break out into race wars over which race is the most "human".
These genes did have consequences. They gave us many allergies modern people suffer from as well as other medical issues. Which would make sense...bestiality is a sin. Sin has consequences, not just on the sinner, but on future generations as well. So, consequences of early humans committing these acts should not be surprising, but we are still all fully human.
Why Would God Create Them?
We can only speculate, given that the exact motives of God's creation of particular species are likely incredibly complex, but here are a few possibilities:
1. God created them for us to interact with and enjoy. Now, this does not apply to early hominids like Ardipithecus, but it does apply to the ones that God left around to interact with humans. The Neanderthals, the Denisovans, and the Floresines.
Much like many creatures we have today (wolves/dogs,cats,goats,etc.) these creatures could have provided a benefit to humans, either practical or emotional. But, in our sin, we caused the extinction of these creatures, and lost our ability to enjoy them.
2. God created them to prepare the earth for human sin. This is a topic that has been brought up by Reasons To Believe, and I think there is merit to it. The idea is that these hominids allowed the animals in certain regions to become accustomed to being hunted in human-like ways (spear-hunting, for instance, which a knuckle walking ape cannot do to large animals), allowing them to better survive against the human onslaught.
This is backed up by the extinction rates surrounding human migration into certain regions. The megafauna (large animals) extinction rate in Africa and Asia (where hominids were abundant at one time) were only 5-10% of the species there.
Whereas, the extinction rate in the Americas and Australia (where there is no evidence of hominids) ranges from 70% - 95%. And in Europe (where there were only a few hominid species), the extinction rate was around 30%.
Now, again this doesn't apply to all hominids. Early hominids were mostly vegetarian, and occasionally scavengers, not hunters of large game.
3. God created them for *his* enjoyment. Psalm 104:26 describes how God created the leviathan (perhaps crocodiles or whales in this context) to play in the seas. And today we have discovered all sorts of strange creatures, the platypus, the okapi, or even primates and marsupials in general.
These creatures ecological niche could easily be something a bit more mundane and still fulfill a virtually identical practical purpose, but they reflect God's playfulness and love for creation. You could argue God created these hominids just simply to create them. God loves creating. God enjoys funny, interesting creatures just like we do.
Personally, even if there was no practical purpose to creating hominids, I'm still glad God did, because they are amazing and interesting creatures.