Baraminic status of Homo naledi in dispute

A dispute about the baraminic status of a newly discovered hominin, Homo naledi in South Africa has been going back and forth recently within creationist circles. Following its description and publication a few years ago, the circa 1550 fossils of this new species were measured, allowing baraminology studies to compare it to other hominids within the genus Homo.
At first O’Micks described H. naledi as part of the human holobaramin based purely on craniodental characteristics, as can be read in this paper: Preliminary baraminological analysis of Homo naledi and its place within the human baramin.
However, after discussing the status of H. naledi with other creationists, O’Micks changed his views on the baraminic status of H. naledi. This happens quite frequently, especially within the area of paleoanthropology. With a more complete set of characteristics and measurements this can certainly happen. This is also a fine example of the truly scientific nature of creation science, because it is capable of self-correction. A major issue in the re-analysis is the fact that baraminic status of a given species cannot depend solely on statistical analysis, but which must take into account multiple lines of evidence in order to form a more holistic view of a given species, such as major morphological characteristics which distinguish between humans and apes. This aspect is missing from Wood’s treatment of the classification of H. naledi. Specifically, these five main characteristics are:

humans apes
large cranial volume smaller cranial volume
round forehead flat forehead
nasal bone present lack of nasal bone
flat, vertical face sloping face
it is possible to see into the eye socket when viewed from the side eye sockets look forward

The results of this second analysis are available here: Homo naledi Probably Not Part of the Human Holobaramin Based on Baraminic Re-Analysis Including Postcranial Evidence.

Wood responded to this re-classification of H. naledi in a response to Answers Research Journal: Taxon Sample Size in Hominin Baraminology: A Response to O’Micks.

In this paper, Wood describes a similar baraminology study that he had performed in 2013 regarding Australopithecus sediba, wherein he found that A. sediba correlated well with member species of the genus Homo. However, when he cut down the number of species in a follow-up study, these correlations disappeared. He claimed that a similar statistical artifact occurred between the two O’Micks studies. Wood also writes this on his blog about deliberate burial of H. naledi: “He [O’Micks] also introduces some new errors, like “humans do not tend to bury their dead alongside animal remains.” That’s actually the exact opposite of the truth. Ancient humans often buried their dead with various animal bones, teeth, horns, and antlers.” However, O’Micks wasn’t referring to bits of bones, teeth, antlers or other pieces of ornaments made from animal parts, but rather that humans don’t tend to bury their dead with whole animal carcasses; not just ornamental parts.

O’Micks responded to Wood’s claims in an Answers Research Journal paper: Reply to “Taxon Sample in Hominin Baraminology: A Response to O’Micks.”

In this response o’Micks acknowledges the problem that statistical artifacts may be introduced due to a smaller number of taxons, and that more measurements for a larger number of species is indeed needed. However, the following considerations should be taken into account:

  • A weight factor of 1.999 was used during character transformation in the second study as opposed to 3.999 in the first one
  • The addition of post-cranial characteristics may skew the results
  • O’Micks also used a weighted version of Wood’s BDIST method, whereby in one case weights of 0.1 were assigned to the craniodental characteristics, thereby widening the baraminic gulf between H. naledi and A. sediba and the members of the genus Homo. This weighting mechanism was used to give more weight to more important characteristics and less weight to less important ones.

Though Wood addresses the statistical aspects of the baraminic classification of H. naledi, there are several questions that he leaves unanswered in his blog post which were brought up in O’Mick’s response to his critique of his re-classification of H. naledi:

  • H. naledi‘s cranial volume is at most 560 cc, whereas the cranial volume of H. erectus is at least 850 cc, if we accept that H. erectus is human.
  • Why would H. naledi humans bury their dead in the most remote part of the cave where they lived, especially since the tunnel to the chamber is only some 7.8 inches wide in some places?
  • The percentage of bone survival is only 10.8%, how could that be if we could assume that they were buried in whole?
  • Wood makes the statement in his critique that “we must remember that all human beings, whatever their appearance, are descendants of Adam and Eve” – how far is Wood willing to go? If A. sediba can pass as human, what about A. robustus? Chimpanzees? You can see that statistics isn’t all-knowing.
  • Though Wood mentions that in Old Testament times there were giants in the land of Israel, there is absolutely no mention of whether these giants had any australopithecine characteristics.
  • What does Wood make of the australopithecine characteristics of H. naledi, such as the sloping forehead, the curved fingers, the shoulder bones and the distally wide rib-cage

All in all, Wood’s position that H. naledi is part of the human holobaramin is tentative at the very best. More measurements for more species is needed, also taking into account different lines of evidence.

Posted 2/17/2017
As of February 16, 2017 Todd Wood had this to say on his blog.
Since I am directly implicated in the blog post, I will respond shortly.

Todd Wood is respond to my rebuttal of his critique of my rebuttal to his critique of my re-analysis of H. naledi. This is the paper in question.

There are three new papers in ARJ on Homo naledi this week. Two of them are responses to O’Micks. The first is by my colleague Matt McLain at the Master’s University in California. He reviews the geological evidence for burial of the Homo naledi remains. My own paper is a longer look at the challenges of hominin baraminology and how Homo naledi fits into those challenges. Finally, O’Micks responds in the longest paper of the three.

Well, of course my paper is the longest of the three. I am responding to two critics, and would rather like to go into the details of things. Furthermore, I analyzed three datasets, with numerous figures, therefore it got quite long.

O’Micks seems to be quite adamant that Homo naledi is not human, but he still seems to misunderstand what I’m claiming.

On the other side I feel that Todd Wood is quite adamant that H. naledi is human, despite a number of issues that he does not address, or were refuted in my rebuttal:

  • That the Genesis Flood might not have been responsible for the H. naledi deposits is a good point, but still leaves unanswered as to why and how H. naledi would deposit its dead in such a hard-to-reach part of the cave.
  • The skulls are mixed, two are long, and one is rounded, suggesting that the remains come from different species.
  • The H. naledi remains are very fragmented (10.8%), not what you’d expect from a burial. Other known burial sites, such as Sierra de Atapuerca have almost whole skeletal remains, with articulated joints.
  • H. floresiensis is also quite possibly an australopith, based on skull morphology and the lower limb. Thus, even though the skull size of H. floresiensis is smaller than that of H. naledi, it does nothing to bridge the gap in skull size between humans and H. naledi – in fact, the lack of intermediate forms illustrates the lack of continuity between H. naledi and H. floresiensis and modern humans, which is one of Wood’s own main criteria for separating species into separate baramins.
  • Several new post-cranial baraminological analyses show H. naledi is outside the human baramin.
  • Proper explanations of why specific weights were assigned to cranial characteristics were explained, even in the original re-analysis of H. naledi.
  • Wood still doesn’t explain H. naledi’s mixed australopithecine morphological characteristics.