In Salvo 20, the Deprogram column is now available online: “Disappearing Link Our Evolutionary Ancestors Keep A-Changing”:
Our human family is obsessed with finding our origins—specifically, with finding our origins in something howling naked in the trees. That makes great special effects for billionaire-backed documentaries . . . but how is it working out in the lab?
The iconic year 2001 featured two promising “earliest humans.” Nine skulls of Sahelanthropus, dated between 6 and 7 million years old, were found at various locations in Africa. Orrorin turned up in Kenya, also dated at 6 million years of age. But there wasn’t much left of Orrorin, either: an upper femur is the most important fossil.
Ah, but then “Ardi,” Ardipithecus ramidus from Ethiopia, burst on the scene in 2009, dated at about 5 million years old. She took the media crown because she still had a skeleton, even though initial reports said it had been “crushed nearly to smithereens.”1 But by 2011, Ardi was also suspect because, as one researcher explained, “We could actually place Ardipithecus in a lineage that’s unrelated to humans.”
At Wired Science, Brian Switek chides the whole scene as “ancestor worship” and points out that primate apes of the same period show similar developments. Widespread convergent evolution means that researchers shouldn’t assume that a fossil is a human ancestor simply because it might resemble humans in one or two ways. More.
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