What do the oldest European artworks and the domestication of animals have in common? A Penn State University paleoanthropologist suggested that they are evidence of a unique connection with animals that profoundly shaped the evolutionary development of early man. However, though her hypothesis provides an interesting spin on the evolutionary story, it ignores much of what the data actually reveal.

The presumed oldest artworks in Europe are ivory carvings depicting animals. Since artists have to think about and visualize an artwork before they make it, it’s safe to assume that these artists had the same capacity for thought that modern sculptors have. But why did they choose animals as their subjects? In both a technical paper in Current Anthropology and the book The Animal Connection, Penn State’s Pat Shipman hypothesized that humans (or human-like ancestors) who shared a more intimate connection with animals were able to obtain more meat, accelerating their evolutionary progress toward modern man.

In addition, their ability to use animals for work and sustenance–“tracking game, destroying rodents, protecting kin and goods, providing wool for warmth, moving humans and goods over long distances, and providing milk to human infants”1–tailored the “selective pressures” that supposedly formed humans.

According to a Penn State news release, Shipman even suggested that the “animal connection” with man led to the evolution of language. Supposedly, domesticated animals became so important that the need for accurate communication about how to manage them gradually turned ape-like grunts into symbolized abstract thoughts.

However, the available data regarding language, animal domestication, and early artwork are most easily interpreted within a creation, not an evolution, narrative….

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