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The ‘Reck skull’ (‘Oldoway Man’)

The ‘Reck skull’ (‘Oldoway Man’)

In 1913, Professor Hans Reck (1886-1937) of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Humboldt University of Berlin, at the time known as Universität unter den Linden) discovered an anatomically modern human skeleton at Olduvai Gorge in what was then German East Africa and is now Tanzania. The skeletal remains, including a complete skull, had to be removed from the highly cemented deposit in which they were contained with hammers and chisels, leading Reck to conclude that the remains were of high antiquity. He believed that the deposits above the skeleton were undisturbed, but the contracted position of the skeleton and its completeness are very different from the usual condition of hominid fossils, which tend to be of body parts rather than complete skeletons. It was partly thanks to the controversy surrounding this discovery that the young Louis Leakey (1903-1972) became fascinated with the Olduvai Gorge site. Reck’s skeleton was notorious because its age could not be established satisfactorily. As Reck could not return to the site (he was German and the United Kingdom had acquired Germany’s African colonies as a result of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles), Leakey began his lifetime’s work there.

The difficulty with accepting Reck’s skeleton as being a million years old (as some creationists have claimed) is that his work was done without any appreciation of archaeological stratigraphy. Although the deposit from which the skeleton was recovered was of that sort of age, it was not clear to Reck if the burial was intrusive (in other words, deposited more recently by digging a grave into that particular geological stratum). Indeed, geological analysis of the material surrounding the skeleton showed it to contain red pebbles and limestone chips derived from higher (i.e. later) strata than that in which the skeleton was thought to have lain. This makes it certain that it was intrusive, in other words, in a grave cut down from a higher layer. As early as 1932, Leakey’s work there showed that this has to be the most economical explanation; had there been anatomically modern humans at this date in the gorge, we would expect to find other remains in contemporary strata, and as we do not, we must question Reck’s original judgement. In fact, even Reck later came to agree that the skeleton was of a recently buried human (most estimates now put it at around 20,000 years old). The ever-useful TalkOrigins website contains a useful (and fully annotated) rebuttal of the claims.

7 Responses to ‘Oldoway man’

  • Angela Conti says:

    You say that creationists claim the “Oldoway” remains are a million years old. Am I missing something? Admittedly, I really don’t pay much attention to creationists, but I thought they believed the Earth was created in 4004 B.C. or something like that.

    • joe fleeman says:

      The accusation that stratograghy was not performed correctly conflict with the original reports.Leakey backed Reck until the disgruntled peer review insinuated threats against Leakey’s upcoming review if he did not stop backing Reck.One peer review rejected Recks finding based on his belief in the authenticity of piltdown man.I would urge everyone to read the original reports along with the criticism of the peer review board which is reprinted in “forbidden archeology”.No, it is NOT a “creationist” book.It is just compilation of all the facts and the truth of how they mishandled and mistreated by scientist who are supposed to be unbiased.

      • James Arneson says:

        At first it Leakey thought exactly what the debunker above claims, that it was either a part of a different strata or that it was buried from an earlier time into the strata below. However, after Leakey and Reck studied the skeleton within the rock he found no evidence suggesting a burial (the soil would have been mixed up in that area with soil from above, and this was clearly not the case). Leakey then changed his view and backed Reck. He only changed his position again after another archeologist (who may have had a definite bias since the books he was writing would have been blown out of the water by such a find) supposedly found the red pebbles that Leakey and Reck had somehow missed in their own careful analysis.
        It is quite possible that Leakey may not have wanted risk his career to go down the tubes due to this and eventually caved under pressure. As mentioned above by Joe Fleeman he faced a hostile peer review if he did not stop backing Reck.
        The claim that there have not been other artifacts to support the existence of a skeleton like this is also false. The problems seems to be that if something doesn’t fit into mainstream views or paradigm at the moment – it cannot exist or be correct. It’s just too mind blowing.

    • jeremy kruger says:

      The term “creationist” is somewhat misleading, and is unfortunate. The bible unequivocably proclaims that all things were created by God. The age of the earth proper is nowhere mentioned; the bible does however state that time is immaterial with God. One interpretation of the seven days of creation as in Genesis is that of 24 hours per day; however, apart from in the Law, there is no other reference in the Bible which emphasizes that God created all life on the earth in six calendar days. The sequence of the “days” fits a true biological rational approach. Hope this helps.

    • scott says:

      thats what i was thinking also???debunked
      i am thinking our host may have confused evolution with creation…… a common mistake……?????…lol

      • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

        No. The point I’m making is that some creationists have said that, using the standard dating criteria, the skull would have to be a million years old. It clearly isn’t. In creationists’ arguments, demonstrating that evolutionary claims are false is a means of proving the correctness of creationism. This is a false dichotomy.

        I need to rewrite this page to clarify my over-hasty writing.

  • Kai says:

    As far as i read and found out (being paleontologist myself) the finds of those early pigs remains and the stratigraphy show that the skeleton Reck would be indeed around 500,000 years ‘old’ IF you compare it to the strata – however there are sinkholes, where skeletons of all kinds may end up, then to be filled with limestone or rubble, which was not known at that time though.

    To accuse a researcher from before 1914 to not know about that or follow modern archeology/ paleontological methods is a bit harsh. Remember what Schliemann did, and what Evans did in Knossos (the latter had indeed been ‘found’ by Schliemann, but he gave up acquiring the area due to the turkish seller, raising his price from day to day).
    Kattwinkel and Reck had found ‘Olduway’ but WW1 and the loss of Tansania then stopped further research. Reck also found more recent activity of melting iron and even about production of steel, which has nothing to do with the skeleton found.


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