To you and me, it may look like any other skeleton, but to some scientists, the pile of bones discovered in a Spanish cave earlier this month is a real treasure. They believe that these human remains are 400,000 years old, making them the oldest source of DNA ever studied. Despite hopes that this find would shed light on evolutionary theory, the shape of the bones and skull have scientists scratching their heads. “It’s quite clear that this is not a direct ancestor of people today,” said Svante Paabo, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
The problem is that although the skeletal features resemble those of a Neanderthal, the DNA matches an older tribe that supposedly vanished closer to 700,000 years ago. According to Paabo, while the earlier DNA is very rare, almost all people living today have some Neanderthal DNA in them. This may explain the behavior of some of our friends.
In any case, archaeologists do admit that “these dates are vague,” so maybe it’s okay to be off by a few (hundred?) thousand years. By now the scientists may be wishing that this skeleton would’ve stayed in the closet as it raises more questions than answers.
Not ones to be scared off by a skeleton, scientists are now working to create a narrative that will bridge their theories and the evidence. This is not uncommon in the ever-changing world of science. New information is always emerging, forcing scientists to reexamine long-held beliefs.
We can all appreciate some modern research. In the past few years, for example, we have learned that red wine, chocolate and coffee can be good for you. Kids around the world are waiting for studies to show that homework has harmful long-term effects on your health, and employees may one day rejoice at the news that shopping online at work actually increases productivity. In many areas, however, scholars are constantly debating the interpretation of new scientific data and how these issues will affect the future. Here’s why the Jewish people, as a nation, stand apart from the rest of the world. From the earliest point in our history, we have looked to the Torah as a guide for every aspect of our lives. Despite countless challenges and persecutions, this is the one source that has survived the test of time.
A recent addition to the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center’s collection is a poignant reminder of the sweet innocence of children learning Torah from texts that have remained unchanged for thousands of years. In the margins of a Chumash from 1894, there are numerous annotations made by its many users. Even doodles are visible, traces of a cheder yingele who might have been just slightly distracted. In today’s classrooms the doodles may have changed, but the words of the Chumash are exactly the same.
When our sons go off to yeshivah to learn Gemara, they have a number of new editions from which to choose. But I always marvel at the idea that if they were to dust off their great-grandfather’s Shas, they would find the very same daf, complete with Rashi and Tosafos, that Yidden have learned for generations. Imagine if they were to take a science book from fifty years ago to class!
We live in a physical world, which by definition is inconsistent and imperfect. The most powerful car may not have the best gas mileage, and the best medicine comes with side effects. The only thing that is entirely perfect is the Torah, because it is from Hashem.
We are all familiar with the miracle of the writing on the Luchos, which was legible from all angles. This was not just a neat trick; it illustrates the fact that the Torah is completely perfect no matter which way you turn it. So although archaeologists will debate our origin and ancestry ad nauseam, we know where we can always turn for the emes.