Humans Related to Orangutans, Not Chimps?

THIS is a press release from the University of Pittsburgh: Humans Related to Orangutans, Not Chimps, Says New Pitt, Buffalo Museum of Science Study of Human Origin. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

New evidence underscores the theory of human origin that suggests humans most likely share a common ancestor with orangutans, according to research from the University of Pittsburgh and the Buffalo Museum of Science. Reporting in the June 18 edition of the “Journal of Biogeography,” the researchers reject as “problematic” the popular suggestion, based on DNA analysis, that humans are most closely related to chimpanzees, which they maintain is not supported by fossil evidence.

Here’s a link to the Journal of Biogeography, but the 18 June issue isn’t yet online. Let’s read on:

Jeffrey H. Schwartz, professor of anthropology in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences and president of the World Academy of Art and Science, and John Grehan, director of science at the Buffalo Museum, conducted a detailed analysis of the physical features of living and fossil apes that suggested humans, orangutans, and early apes belong to a group separate from chimpanzees and gorillas. They then constructed a scenario for how the human-orangutan common ancestor migrated between Southeast Asia-where modern orangutans are from-and other parts of the world and evolved into now-extinct apes and early humans.

Just when you were getting reconciled to having something chimp-like for an ancestor, along comes this orangutan theory. We continue:

Schwartz and Grehan scrutinized the hundreds of physical characteristics often cited as evidence of evolutionary relationships among humans and other great apes-chimps, gorillas, and orangutans-and selected 63 that could be verified as unique within this group (i.e., they do not appear in other primates). Of these features, the analysis found that humans shared 28 unique physical characteristics with orangutans, compared to only two features with chimpanzees, seven with gorillas, and seven with all three apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans). Gorillas and chimpanzees shared 11 unique characteristics.

Here’s where it gets tricky:

The researchers acknowledge, however, that early human and ape fossils are largely found in Africa, whereas modern orangutans are found in Southeast Asia. To account for the separation, they propose that the last common human-orangutan ancestor migrated between Africa, Europe, and Asia at some point that ended at least 12 million to 13 million years ago.


Schwartz and Grehan compare this theory of ancestral distribution with one designed to accommodate a presumed human-chimpanzee relationship. They write that in the absence of African ape fossils more than 500,000 years old, a series of “complicated and convoluted” scenarios were invented to suggest that African apes had descended from earlier apes that migrated from Africa to Europe. According to these scenarios, European apes then diverged into apes that moved on to Asia and into apes that returned to Africa to later become humans and modern apes. Schwartz and Grehan challenge these theories as incompatible with the morphological and biogeographic evidence.

The creationists are going to have a lot of fun with this. One last excerpt:

“They have good morphological evidence in support of their interpretation, so that it must be taken seriously, and if it reopens the debate between molecular biologists and morphologists, so much the better,” [Paleoanthropologist Peter] Andrews said. “They are going against accepted interpretations of human and ape relationships, and there’s no doubt their conclusions will be challenged. But I hope it will be done in a constructive way, for science progresses by asking questions and testing results.”

But the creationists are always complaining that scientists won’t permit any challenges to accepted theories. Oh, wait — they have an alternative complaint for situations like this one: Those gull-durned scientists are always changing their theories around. Besides, I ain’t no kin to no orangutan.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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10 responses to “Humans Related to Orangutans, Not Chimps?

  1. The Gadfly

    The DNA sequence data are strongly against them. I’ll be watching.

  2. It’s an actual controversy, so it can be taught in schools. Jeepers, I’ve been reading that those eeevooluushinists don’t allow any controversies. It’s so confusing.

  3. Ditto, Gadfly. I wonder if they took Homo floresiensis into their account.

  4. Double ditto. I havn’t read much about it yet, so I hope I’m wrong about this conjecture being just more “Out of Africa” denial.

  5. I only read the excerpts above, and I see nothing about humans and chimps being “not related” in the sense of being the product of separate origin-of-life events. But that’s what most nonscientists (~1/2 are creationists anyway) infer from the sensationalist headline. And few will read and comprehend beyond the headline.

  6. Schwartz has been pushing this for 20 years. He has yet to convince anyone else of his accuracy.

  7. Schwartz illustrates the key difference between his ideas and those of the cdesign proponentsists – he actually submits his ideas for review by the scientific community. Even if his conclusions amount to wishful thinking, the morphological data has some value.

  8. James F says: “Schwartz illustrates the key difference between his ideas and those of the cdesign proponentsists …”

    Jeepers, he’s challenging a generally accepted theory. Isn’t he afraid he’ll be expelled?

  9. Crumudgeon wrote: “Jeepers, he’s challenging a generally accepted theory. Isn’t he afraid he’ll be expelled?”

    No. At best he realizes that he might have to do more work to “earn good grades.” The only ones who whine about being “expelled” are the ones that are always absent from “class.”

  10. Edward Van

    Please study this strange website
    It seems somehow to be related to the ideas of Prof. Geoffrey Schwartz

    [Actually, it looks more like you’re spamming.]