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Skulls Found in Africa and in Europe Challenge Theories of Human Origins
NY Times ^ | August 6, 2002 | By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

Posted on 08/11/2002 3:59:04 PM PDT by vannrox



August 6, 2002

Skulls Found in Africa and in Europe Challenge Theories of Human Origins

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

Two ancient skulls, one from central Africa and the other from the Black Sea republic of Georgia, have shaken the human family tree to its roots, sending scientists scrambling to see if their favorite theories are among the fallen fruit.

Probably so, according to paleontologists, who may have to make major revisions in the human genealogy and rethink some of their ideas about the first migrations out of Africa by human relatives.

Yet, despite all the confusion and uncertainty the skulls have caused, scientists speak in superlatives of their potential for revealing crucial insights in the evidence-disadvantaged field of human evolution.

The African skull dates from nearly 7 million years ago, close to the fateful moment when the human and chimpanzee lineages went their separate ways. The 1.75-million-year-old Georgian skull could answer questions about the first human ancestors to leave Africa, and why they ventured forth.

Still, it was a shock, something of a one-two punch, for two such momentous discoveries to be reported independently in a single week, as happened in July.

"I can't think of another month in the history of paleontology in which two such finds of importance were published," said Dr. Bernard Wood, a paleontologist at George Washington University. "This really exposes how little we know of human evolution and the origin of our own genus Homo."

Every decade or two, a fossil discovery upsets conventional wisdom. One more possible "missing link" emerges. An even older member of the hominid group, those human ancestors and their close relatives (but not apes), comes to light. Some fossils also show up with attributes so puzzling that scientists cannot decide where they belong, if at all, in the human lineage.

At each turn, the family tree, once drawn straight as a ponderosa pine, has had to be reconfigured with more branches leading here and there and, in some cases, apparently nowhere.

"When I went to medical school in 1963, human evolution looked like a ladder," Dr. Wood said. The ladder, he explained, stepped from monkey to modern human through a progression of intermediates, each slightly less apelike than the previous one.

But the fact that modern Homo sapiens is the only hominid living today is quite misleading, an exception to the rule dating only since the demise of Neanderthals some 30,000 years ago. Fossil hunters keep finding multiple species of hominids that overlapped in time, reflecting evolutionary diversity in response to new or changed circumstances. Not all of them could be direct ancestors of Homo sapiens. Some presumably were dead-end side branches.

So a tangled bush has now replaced a tree as the ascendant imagery of human evolution. Most scientists studying the newfound African skull think it lends strong support to hominid bushiness almost from the beginning.

That is one of several reasons Dr. Daniel E. Lieberman, a biological anthropologist at Harvard, called the African specimen "one of the greatest paleontological discoveries of the past 100 years."

The skull was uncovered in the desert of Chad by a French-led team under the direction of Dr. Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers. Struck by the skull's unusual mix of apelike and evolved hominid features, the discoverers assigned it to an entirely new genus and species — Sahelanthropus tchadensis. It is more commonly called Toumai, meaning "hope of life" in the local language.

In announcing the discovery in the July 11 issue of the journal Nature, Dr. Brunet's group said the fossils — a cranium, two lower jaw fragments and several teeth — promised "to illuminate the earliest chapter in human evolutionary history."

The age, face and geography of the new specimen were all surprises.

About a million years older than any previously recognized hominid, Toumai lived close to the time that molecular biologists think was the earliest period in which the human lineage diverged from the chimpanzee branch. The next oldest hominid appears to be the 6-million-year-old Orrorin tugenensis, found two years ago in Kenya but not yet fully accepted by many scientists. After it is Ardipithecus ramidus, which probably lived 4.4 million to 5.8 million years ago in Ethiopia.

"A lot of interesting things were happening earlier than we previously knew," said Dr. Eric Delson, a paleontologist at the City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History.

The most puzzling aspect of the new skull is that it seems to belong to two widely separated evolutionary periods. Its size indicates that Toumai had a brain comparable to that of a modern chimp, about 320 to 380 cubic centimeters. Yet the face is short and relatively flat, compared with the protruding faces of chimps and other early hominids. Indeed, it is more humanlike than the "Lucy" species, Australopithecus afarensis, which lived more than 3.2 million years ago.

"A hominid of this age," Dr. Wood wrote in Nature, "should certainly not have the face of a hominid less than one-third of its geological age."

Scientists suggest several possible explanations. Toumai could somehow be an ancestor of modern humans, or of gorillas or chimps. It could be a common ancestor of humans and chimps, before the divergence.

"But why restrict yourself to thinking this fossil has to belong to a lineage that leads to something modern?" Dr. Wood asked. "It's perfectly possible this belongs to a branch that's neither chimp nor human, but has become extinct."

Dr. Wood said the "lesson of history" is that fossil hunters are more likely to find something unrelated directly to living creatures — more side branches to tangle the evolutionary bush. So the picture of human genealogy gets more complex, not simpler.

A few scientists sound cautionary notes. Dr. Delson questioned whether the Toumai face was complete enough to justify interpretations of more highly evolved characteristics. One critic argued that the skull belonged to a gorilla, but that is disputed by scientists who have examined it.

Just as important perhaps is the fact that the Chad skull was found off the beaten path of hominid research. Until now, nearly every early hominid fossil has come from eastern Africa, mainly Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, or from southern Africa. Finding something very old and different in central Africa should expand the hunt.

"In hindsight, we should have expected this," Dr. Lieberman said. "Africa is big and we weren't looking at all of Africa. This fossil is a wake-up call. It reminds us that we're missing large portions of the fossil record."

Although overshadowed by the news of Toumai, the well-preserved 1.75-million-year-old skull from Georgia was also full of surprises, in this case concerning a later chapter in the hominid story. It raised questions about the identity of the first hominids to be intercontinental travelers, who set in motion the migrations that would eventually lead to human occupation of the entire planet.

The discovery, reported in the July 5 issue of the journal Science, was made at the medieval town Dmanisi, 50 miles southwest of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Two years ago, scientists announced finding two other skulls at the same site, but the new one appears to be intriguingly different and a challenge to prevailing views.

Scientists have long been thought that the first hominid out-of-Africa migrants were Homo erectus, a species with large brains and a stature approaching human dimensions. The species was widely assumed to have stepped out in the world once they evolved their greater intelligence and longer legs and invented more advanced stone tools.

The first two Dmanisi skulls confirmed one part of the hypothesis. They bore a striking resemblance to the African version of H. erectus, sometimes called Homo ergaster. Their discovery was hailed as the most ancient undisputed hominid fossils outside Africa.

But the skulls were associated with more than 1,000 crudely chipped cobbles, simple choppers and scrapers, not the more finely shaped and versatile tools that would be introduced by H. erectus more than 100,000 years later. That undercut the accepted evolutionary explanation for the migrations.

The issue has become even more muddled with the discovery of the third skull by international paleontologists led by Dr. David Lordkipanidze of the Georgian State Museum in Tbilisi. It is about the same age and bears an overall resemblance to the other two skulls. But it is much smaller.

"These hominids are more primitive than we thought," Dr. Lordkipanidze said in an article in the current issue of National Geographic magazine. "We have a new puzzle."

To the discoverers, the skull has the canine teeth and face of Homo habilis, a small hominid with long apelike arms that evolved in Africa before H. erectus. And the size of its cranium suggests a substantially smaller brain than expected for H. erectus.

In their journal report, the discovery team estimated the cranial capacity of the new skull to be about 600 cubic centimeters, compared with about 780 and 650 c.c.'s for the other Dmanisis specimens. That is "near the mean" for H. habilis, they noted. Modern human braincases are about 1,400 cubic centimeters.

Dr. G. Philip Rightmire, a paleontologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton and a member of the discovery team, said that if the new skull had been found before the other two, it might have been identified as H. habilis.

Dr. Ian Tattersall, a specialist in human evolution at the natural history museum in New York City, said the specimen was "the first truly African-looking thing to come from outside Africa." More than anything else, he said, it resembles a 1.9-million-year-old Homo habilis skull from Kenya.

For the time being, however, the fossil is tentatively labeled Homo erectus, though it stretches the definition of that species. Scientists are pondering what lessons they can learn from it about the diversity of physical attributes within a single species.

Dr. Fred Smith, a paleontologist who has just become dean of arts and sciences at Loyola University in Chicago, agreed that his was a sensible approach, at least until more fossils turn up. Like other scientists, he doubted that two separate hominid species would have occupied the same habitat at roughly the same time. Marked variations within a species are not uncommon; brain size varies within living humans by abut 15 percent.

"The possibility of variations within a species should never be excluded," Dr. Smith said. "There's a tendency now for everybody to see three bumps on a fossil instead of two and immediately declare that to be another species."

Some discoverers of the Dmanisi skull speculated that these hominids might be descended from ancestors like H. habilis that had already left Africa. In that case, it could be argued that H. erectus itself evolved not in Africa but elsewhere from an ex-African species. If so, the early Homo genealogy would have to be drastically revised.

But it takes more than two or even three specimens to reach firm conclusions about the range of variations within a species. Still, Georgia is a good place to start. The three specimens found there represent the largest collection of individuals from any single site older than around 800,000 years.

"We have now a very rich collection, of three skulls and three jawbones, which gives us a chance to study very properly this question" of how to classify early hominids, Dr. Lordkipanidze said, and paleontologists are busy this summer looking for more skulls at Dmanisi.

"We badly want to know what the functional abilities of the first out-of-Africa migrants were," said Dr. Wood of George Washington University. "What could that animal do that animals that preceded it couldn't? What was the role of culture in this migration? Maybe other animals were leaving and the hominids simply followed."

All scholars of human prehistory eagerly await the next finds from Dmanisi, and in Chad. Perhaps they will help untangle some of the bushy branches of the human family tree to reveal the true ancestry of Homo sapiens.




TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: black; crevolist; discovery; dmanisi; dna; evolution; gene; genealogy; georgia; godsgravesglyphs; history; human; man; mtdna; multiregionalism; oldowan; origin; paleontologist; republicofgeorgia; science; sea; skull; theory
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Yet another revision of history.
1 posted on 08/11/2002 3:59:04 PM PDT by vannrox
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Comment #2 Removed by Moderator

To: vannrox
"we have long known that the Garden of Eden was in East Africa."
3 posted on 08/11/2002 4:16:53 PM PDT by gusopol3
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To: longshadow; PatrickHenry
Ping!
4 posted on 08/11/2002 4:21:03 PM PDT by Scully
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To: vannrox
Yet another revision of history.

You expecting a final edition?
The end of history was one thing,
the end of prehistory...never.

5 posted on 08/11/2002 4:56:13 PM PDT by gcruse
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To: vannrox
bump
6 posted on 08/11/2002 5:03:40 PM PDT by Sam Cree
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To: VadeRetro; jennyp; Junior; longshadow; *crevo_list; RadioAstronomer; Scully; Piltdown_Woman; ...
Skull-o-ramma ping.
7 posted on 08/11/2002 5:12:38 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: PatrickHenry
A few scientists sound cautionary notes. Dr. Delson questioned whether the Toumai face was complete enough to justify interpretations of more highly evolved characteristics. One critic argued that the skull belonged to a gorilla, but that is disputed by scientists who have examined it.

You won't find discussion and disagreement like this between Creationists. Now then, which of the two, Creationism or Evolution, appears to be a members-only club?

8 posted on 08/11/2002 5:33:07 PM PDT by Scully
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To: gcruse
All scholars of human prehistory eagerly await the next finds from Dmanisi, and in Chad. Perhaps they will help untangle some of the bushy branches of the human family tree to reveal the true ancestry of Homo sapiens.

Since every new finding of the past fifty years has claimed to “challenge theories of human origin,” what, exactly, are these scholars eagerly awaiting? These skull parts have proven useless for untangling “the bushy branches of the family tree,” but they are very effective in exposing the root-rot of evolvoid story-telling.

9 posted on 08/11/2002 5:37:51 PM PDT by housetops
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To: Confederate Keyester
Of the many dating methods currently in use, which one was used here to establish the 7 mya date? Carbon 14 is good for no more that 13-15K years. Other methods are certainly suspect. If it is the strata the bones were found in, those are usually dated by the fossils found in them; and the fossils are dated by the strata. (Check the text books). Therefore, whence the date? [Probably the usual "speculation".]

One noted paleontologist was asked how he dated a particular fossil. His response - when he flew over the area before landing, he could just tell that the area was at least 4.5 million years old. Yeah right!]

10 posted on 08/11/2002 5:40:15 PM PDT by LiteKeeper
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To: Scully
Now then, which of the two, Creationism or Evolution, appears to be a members-only club?

Creationism is a loose association of the dropouts of modern society, who have little in common other than zero understanding of, and hostility toward, science.

11 posted on 08/11/2002 5:43:09 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: housetops
 
Since every new finding of the past fifty years has claimed to “
challenge theories of human origin,” what, exactly, are these
scholars eagerly awaiting?

The more dots you get, the more likely you
are to make correct connections.

12 posted on 08/11/2002 5:58:07 PM PDT by gcruse
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To: PatrickHenry
You are getting an early start on the personal insults I see. Since I am creationist/a modern computer user/ who teaches science I don't fit into your worldview now do I?
13 posted on 08/11/2002 6:01:21 PM PDT by Ahban
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To: vannrox
My God created an evolving universe.

How fascinating to find more of the pieces of the puzzle.
14 posted on 08/11/2002 6:05:44 PM PDT by CobaltBlue
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To: vannrox
"A hominid of this age," Dr. Wood wrote in Nature, "should certainly not have the face of a hominid less than one-third of its geological age."

Not surprising if, as a prominent French researcher is correct, the skull is that of an ancient female gorilla which has a more human and less ape-like facial features. If anything, the reverberations caused by individual fossils should underscore the poverty of data in this field .
15 posted on 08/11/2002 6:09:50 PM PDT by aruanan
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To: PatrickHenry; Ahban
Creationism is a loose association of the dropouts of modern society, who have little in common other than zero understanding of, and hostility toward, science.

Hmmmm, comparing your statement with the fact that I'm a Ph.D. biologist from one of the leading research institutions in the world, I'd have to say that while your characterization comports nicely with that of skeptic websites it is otherwise out of touch with reality.
16 posted on 08/11/2002 6:13:53 PM PDT by aruanan
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To: gcruse
The more dots you get, the more likely you are to make correct connections.

But the more dots they get, the more their picture fades. The reason every new finding “challenges theories of human origins” is because their datum is wacked.

17 posted on 08/11/2002 6:18:10 PM PDT by housetops
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To: LiteKeeper
Carbon 14 is good for no more that 13-15K years.

No. Simple counting of C-14 (the traditional method) is good to about 50K years ago, and by using a cyclotron and a mass spectrometer, C-14 dating can be extended to about 100,000 years ago.

As for the alleged circularity of fossil dating, I might point out that there are other external indicators used to calibrate and judge the accuracy of radioisotope dating - you really ought to investigate the techniques used before asserting such a thing.

18 posted on 08/11/2002 6:19:30 PM PDT by general_re
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To: housetops
 The reason every new finding
“challenges theories of human origins” is
because their datum is wacked.

It sure beats swallowing whole the
ancient mythology of a band
of desert dwellers.
 

19 posted on 08/11/2002 6:23:06 PM PDT by gcruse
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To: PatrickHenry
Creationism is a loose association of the dropouts of modern society, who have little in common other than zero understanding of, and hostility toward, science.

Kind of the way this post exhibits zero understanding of, and hostility toward, creationists.

20 posted on 08/11/2002 6:35:36 PM PDT by Jorge
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To: Jorge
Have you visted other crevo threads? Any hostility you may see in this thread is minor compared to the abuse hurled at evolutionists.
21 posted on 08/11/2002 6:39:55 PM PDT by Aracelis
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To: vannrox
So much for the nice neat theories supporting the "From goo to you by way of the zoo" school of thought.
22 posted on 08/11/2002 6:42:00 PM PDT by Busywhiskers
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To: housetops
the evidence-disadvantaged field of human evolution

At least the article got one fact right!

23 posted on 08/11/2002 6:42:41 PM PDT by coramdeo
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To: Ahban
Since I am creationist/a modern computer user/ who teaches science I don't fit into your worldview now do I?

No. I guess I should have mentioned that there are exceptions.

24 posted on 08/11/2002 6:50:10 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: Piltdown_Woman
Have you visted other crevo threads? Any hostility you may see in this thread is minor compared to the abuse hurled at evolutionists.

So I have to go to other threads to see creationists displaying the sort of abuse evolutionists are posting here...
ok.

BTW, I've visted many "crevo threads" in this and other online forums....and I've never seen anything to compare to the personal insults and invective some evolutionists resort to in order to avoid defending their convoluted bag-o-wind theories.

25 posted on 08/11/2002 6:50:20 PM PDT by Jorge
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To: general_re
Wow! what are these other ways. Don't leave us in suspense. Or else we'll think you're spoofing.

General statements as rebuttal don't wash. Gotta have numbers from the scientists. The circular reasoning in question at least had terms I could identify with. Just give a few external indicators and the name of that radioisotope they help calibrate for accuracy...
26 posted on 08/11/2002 6:50:35 PM PDT by Starbreed
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To: Scully
You won't find discussion and disagreement like this between Creationists.

I don't know. There must be some reason for the 250 Christian Churches in the US alone. It's also interesting how few of us know which Bible we're reading.

27 posted on 08/11/2002 6:53:45 PM PDT by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: gusopol3
By using the pronoun "we" I must assume that you have a mouse in your pocket.
28 posted on 08/11/2002 6:59:10 PM PDT by shirleyvalentine
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To: vannrox
There is nothing surprising in this, it is expected, the evolutionary tree, just by the way it came about will look like a bush or a tree, then a straight up ladder, some breakoffs will not work and therefore die off, dead end, while others will work and will continue to evolve, and some of those won't work and that branch will die, another dead end.

To say that this rolls evolution on its head is ridiculous, it just shows that it is indeed giving the right answers, and continues to grow. The basic theory is VERY sound, and it will just get more and more pieces added to it.

Again, to say that this hurts the theory of evolution at all, is going way beyond any kind of evidence.

Keep trying though, I love to see you Creo's freaking out and latching onto whatever you can find.
29 posted on 08/11/2002 7:00:06 PM PDT by Aric2000
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To: Aric2000
Again, to say that this hurts the theory of evolution at all, is going way beyond any kind of evidence.

But it doesn't do very much for the "theory" of Noah's Ark, does it?

30 posted on 08/11/2002 7:03:27 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: PatrickHenry
Thanks for the ping, this should be a fun thread!! LOL
31 posted on 08/11/2002 7:03:28 PM PDT by Aric2000
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To: vannrox
This really exposes how little we know of human evolution

Bingo

32 posted on 08/11/2002 7:08:15 PM PDT by Tribune7
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To: PatrickHenry
Nope, it sure doesn't, but again, this will be a fun thread. The Creo's are gonna take it as a chink, when in fact it is fully expected.
33 posted on 08/11/2002 7:08:57 PM PDT by Aric2000
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To: gore3000
ping
34 posted on 08/11/2002 7:09:06 PM PDT by Tribune7
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To: Tribune7
Did you have to do that?
35 posted on 08/11/2002 7:10:30 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: Tribune7
Did you really have to do that?

This thread will now be ruined, there will Blue everywhere, talking about stuff that is totally ridiculous and been gone over time and time again. And been refuted and shot dowm time and time again.

Oh well, was gonna be a fun thread, but then again, he would have found it on his own, but better later then sooner as far as I am concerned.
36 posted on 08/11/2002 7:11:54 PM PDT by Aric2000
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To: vannrox

Careful reading of Genesis 1-2 challenges current theories of human origin!


37 posted on 08/11/2002 7:12:01 PM PDT by Chemnitz
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To: PatrickHenry
Great minds man, great minds!! LOL
38 posted on 08/11/2002 7:12:25 PM PDT by Aric2000
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To: PatrickHenry
Creationism is a loose association of the dropouts of modern society, who have little in common other than zero understanding of, and hostility toward, science.

Spoken like a true kool-aid drinker believer.

I asked you a question a while ago in a simlar thread. You never answered.

Care to try again?

39 posted on 08/11/2002 7:16:19 PM PDT by JZoback
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To: Aric2000; PatrickHenry
:-)
40 posted on 08/11/2002 7:16:45 PM PDT by Tribune7
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To: Chemnitz
Careful reading of Genesis, challenges Genesis, when something contradicts itself as many times as the bible does, you know the people that put it together were a little whacked in the head, or else god is, but I don't think god is whacked, so the guys that put that book together must be.
41 posted on 08/11/2002 7:16:59 PM PDT by Aric2000
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To: JZoback
Spoken like a true kool-aid drinker believer. I asked you a question a while ago in a simlar thread. You never answered. Care to try again?

I don't remember your earlier question. But judging by your latest post, I'm not surprised that I didn't bother responding.

42 posted on 08/11/2002 7:18:57 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: PatrickHenry
I'm glad for your last.
43 posted on 08/11/2002 7:19:09 PM PDT by Ahban
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To: Aric2000
That was good.
44 posted on 08/11/2002 7:19:59 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: Ahban
As you know, there are a few chronic posters to these threads who give your position a bad reputation. I don't recall having any beef with you.
45 posted on 08/11/2002 7:21:43 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: Aric2000
Please enlighten me on the "contradictions" you reference in Genesis.
46 posted on 08/11/2002 7:22:00 PM PDT by Ahban
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To: Ahban
Study it a bit, and I mean study it, you should be able to enlighten yourself quite sufficiently all by yourself. If you are into logical thought that is.

Have fun, and come back to me when you find those contradictions, because I would be very interested if you find the same ones that I did. Because you will find them, if you are truly looking.
47 posted on 08/11/2002 7:24:58 PM PDT by Aric2000
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To: gcruse
Perhaps it is time to revisit the Australian and Javan findings and think of many centers rather than "only Africa".
48 posted on 08/11/2002 7:30:27 PM PDT by JimSEA
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To: JimSEA
The future is....panspermia.
49 posted on 08/11/2002 7:43:17 PM PDT by gcruse
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To: vannrox
Yet another revision of history.

Also a revision of geography: someone should tell The New York Times that the Republic of Georgia is in Asia, not Europe.

50 posted on 08/11/2002 7:43:18 PM PDT by Verginius Rufus
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