Quote: Washburn on early theories of human evolution

1 minute read

Sherwood Washburn, in a lecture published in 1982 Washburn:fifty:1982

The early theories of human evolution are really very odd, if one stops to look at them. David Pilbeam has described the early theories as "fossil-free." That is, here were theories about human evolution that one would think would require some fossil evidence, but in fact there were either so few fossils that they exerted no influence on the theory, or there were no fossils at all. So between man's supposed closest relatives and the early human fossils, there was only the imagination of nineteenth-century scientists. For example, the scientists could not decide whether the original Neanderthal skeleton was a genuine fossil or a pathological specimen. Major scientists were on both sides of this debate, and it was not until a number of skeletons were found many years later that it was pretty well accepted that the Neanderthals formed a race of humans that lived in Europe before modern humans occupied that area. Even so, the Neanderthals were described as "uncouth, repellent, unattractive, incapable of fine coordination of the fingers, and certainly belonging to a different species." This is science derived directly from bones -- "uncouth, repellent, and unattractive"? Who felt this way about the skeletons?