What exactly is the human fossil record? The Smithsonian defines it as the history of human species documented by fossils. It helps us to understand our sexual dimorphism, biological changes, when we began walking upright, and when we spread out across the world. However, the fossil record is not complete, is constantly being added to, and can be easily misunderstood. In Species with Amnesia: Our Forgotten History, Robert Sepehr tries to discredit human evolution by questioning the fossil record, arguing, among other things, that the “man-from-monkey” model is inaccurate and that Lucy has been badly misinterpreted. To Sepehr, the entire evolutionary paradigm is wrong: it has to be for his argument to work. He believes humanity to be a "hybrid species" that does not share a common ancestry in Africa and claims that there has been no unfalsified evidence to back up the man-from-monkey idea because followers of Darwin’s theory are passionately promoting this paradigm.
Sepehr begins by attempting to discredit the fossil record by discussing Piltdown Man and other flaws of scientific investigation. In 1889, Charles Dawson and Smith Woodward found a set of teeth, a jawbone, and small skull fragments that supposedly belonged to the same individual. They interpreted this as the “missing link” because of both, ape-like and human-like features. Piltdown Man turned out to be a fraud. In the 1950's, tests showed that the skull and jaw fragments were actually from two different species, human and probably orangutan.
In 1922, Nebraska Man came to be by Harold Cook who found a human-like tooth in the Pliocene deposits of Nebraska and called it the “missing link”. Apparently, Nebraska Man was even used as evolutionary evidence in The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes in 1925. After the trial the entire skeleton was found and it actually belonged to an extinct species of boar.
Sepehr also discusses other scientific “mess-ups”, such as the Southwest Colorado Man and the Montana Man. Sepehr (page 8) states that
“There is a lesson here concerning the reliability of so-called expert testimony, which is so often produced simply to manipulate and intimidate the layman who lacks the proper mainstream indoctrination."
The scientists acknowledged their mistakes and corrected their errors by running necessary tests when they became available. That’s how science works! What would science be if others did not come around to try to falsify claims? Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man are perfect examples of claims being falsifiable. As science advances, discoveries will be made and interpretations will change.
And then he picks on Lucy. "Lucy” is a 3.2 million-year-old australopithecine fossil found by Donald Johanson and Tom Gray in 1974. Sepehr misinterprets “Lucy,” an almost full skeleton found at the site of Hadar in Ethiopia. There are several traits that identify Lucy as bipedal: the distal femur and angled knee joint surfaces; her human-like pelvis configured to balance the trunk on only one limb with each stride; a convergent big toe; and spinal lumbar curvature. Lucy is presumed to be a female because of the clear differences in sexual dimorphism of that time period.
Sepehr claims that the conception of Lucy being sold to the public differs from the fossil evidence. The reconstructions of her in museums all show her with human eyes, human-like hands, bipedal, and with human-like feet. He shares “evidence” from studies and scientific journals, arguing against Lucy’s bipedalism: she has grasping foot tendencies, does not have a locking mechanism in her knees which allows us to stand for long periods of time; she has the morphology of a knuckle-walker. He appeals to creationist websites for support in kicking Lucy out of the family tree.
Sepehr seems to not want to understand the evidence and ask why Lucy might have some some ape-like and some human-like features. According to a Live Science article, Lucy was discovered to have upward facing shoulder blades, unlike humans’ downward shoulder blades, suggesting she was still spending some of lifespan still in trees. She still has a human-like hip bone, lower limb, and foot that shows upright walking adaptation. Sepehr does not seem to understand the fact that Lucy has been determined ape-like and human-like combined. She is not the common ancestor or the “missing link” but another starting point to the history of our human evolution, an observed partial common descent.
Sepehr seizes on the recent (2015) news that a piece of the thoracic vertebrae found with Lucy was actually part of a baboon. The bone was found during work for a new Lucy reconstruction. Scott Williams, one of the researchers involved, confirmed that
" . . . the other 88 fossil fragments belonging to Lucy’s skeleton are correctly identified. And the mislabelled baboon bone fragment doesn’t undermine Lucy’s important position in the evolution of our lineage."
Sepehr concludes his attempt to discredit evolution with a misinterpretation of a statement about Ardipithecus by well-known biological anthropologist Dr. Owen Lovejoy. Lovejoy states, “people often think we evolved from ancestors that look like apes, but no apes evolved from ancestors that look like us” (page 14). Sepehr twists Lovejoy’s words by saying that Lovejoy means “man didn’t descend from apes” and “our knuckle-dragging cousins descended from us” (page 15). Lovejoy actually meant that the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans did not look exactly like either, but had many features that were retained in the hominin lineage.