A friend recently mentioned that she was planning to visit the famous rock shelters at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh. These sandstone caves are famous for their rock art and stone tools, ranging in age from the Palaeolithic to more recent times. The site is looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
I remembered my own trip to these shelters over three years ago. This is a photo I’d taken then – of a plaque in front of a cave where Palaeolithic stone tools had been found. It describes the grand story of human evolution.
Underlined in yellow is the explanation for the evolution of our dexterous hands. I am not highlighting the language but the very Lamarckian-sounding mechanism. If the claim is that hands capable of creating sophisticated tools evolved just by the continuous handling of stone, then this is evolution occurring through inheritance of acquired characteristics, just like a blacksmith passing on his musculature to his children. This is not a viable mechanism of evolution. Physiological changes acquired due to a life experience are not passed on to progeny. Our gametes are sequestered from our somatic cells. I strongly suspect that a lot of people still conflate inheritance of acquired characters with natural selection.
The very first sentence – “Millions of years after Ramapithecus, the species Australopithecus and its subspecies came into existence” – is confusing. As is another plaque that shows the classic linear march of hominin evolution from a more primitive looking ape to modern humans. In it, Ramapithecus appears to be an early ancestor of humans.
Australopithecus, a genus and not a species, did appear millions of years after Ramapithecus, but there is no ancestor-descendant relationship between the two. Ramapithecus was initially identified as a Miocene ape and a possible ancestor of humans. Its range was the Himalayan foothills, leading to some excitement that the human family’s roots could be traced to the Indian subcontinent. But more fossil finds have changed this early interpretation.
Ramapithecus is not even considered a valid taxon anymore. The fossils named Ramapithecus are now subsumed under the genus Sivapithecus. The latter genus includes a great variety of Asian ape species. The lineage is more closely related to the ancestors of the orang utan and not to living African apes or the hominin family.
This is just a poor show by the ASI. They need to urgently update the information they are providing the public.
This article was originally published on Suvrat Kher’s blog. It has been reproduced here with permission.