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Bone Discovery May Show That Neanderthal Man Could Talk

April 27, 1989|ANNE C. ROARK | Times Staff Writer

In a telephone interview from his office at Yale, Crelin was even less complimentary of Baruch. "This guy's an idiot," said Crelin, who acknowledged being particularly irritated by a less than flattering review that Baruch had written earlier of a book Crelin wrote in 1987 explaining the evolution of the human vocal tract. In the review in the "American Scientist," Baruch called Crelin's theories "unexplained," his conclusions "bizarre" and described the book as having "anatomical errors."

"He says he found anatomical mistakes in my book!" Crelin exclaimed. "My God, for 35 years I've been the expert on anatomy here."

The ferocity with which these scientists were attacking each other this week is not uncommon in the field of vocal evolution, according to those who are in the middle of the dispute. One of the reasons seems to be that the controversy over human speech is part of a larger debate on whether Neanderthals were direct ancestors of modern humans, rather than an evolutionary dead-end.

Behind that controversy is an even larger debate over exactly where and how prehistoric ape-like mammals made their fateful transition to modern human beings.

On one side, there are those--and the numbers are growing--who hold that modern humans evolved in one place--probably Africa--and then migrated throughout the world. In this camp, racial differences are attributed to human evolutionary responses to regional conditions.

On the other side are those--among them Baruch and a number of prominent scientists--who believe that modern humans arose virtually simultaneously and independently in different places in Africa, Europe and Asia.

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