August 8, 2007

OH, WHAT A TANGLED TREE THEY WEAVE (via mc and kbrouwer)

African fossils paint messy picture of human evolution: Who was our ancestor's ancestor?
(Associated Press, August 8, 2007)

Surprising fossils dug up in Africa are creating messy kinks in the iconic straight line of human evolution with its knuckle-dragging ape and briefcase-carrying man.

The new research by famed paleontologist Meave Leakey in Kenya shows our family tree is more like a wayward bush with stubby branches, calling into question the evolution of our ancestors.

The old theory was that the first and oldest species in our family tree, Homo habilis, evolved into Homo erectus, which then became us, Homo sapiens. But those two earlier species lived side-by-side about 1.5 million years ago in parts of Kenya for at least half a million years, Leakey and colleagues report in a paper published in Thursday's journal Nature.

In 2000 Leakey found an old H. erectus complete skull within walking distance of an upper jaw of the H. habilis, and both dated from the same general time period. That makes it unlikely that H. erectus evolved from H. habilis, researchers said. [...]

Overall what it paints for human evolution is a "chaotic kind of looking evolutionary tree rather than this heroic march that you see with the cartoons of an early ancestor evolving into some intermediate and eventually unto us," Spoor said in a phone interview from a field office of the Koobi Fora Research Project in northern Kenya.

That old evolutionary cartoon, while popular with the general public, keeps getting proven wrong and too simple, said Bill Kimbel, who praised the latest findings. He is science director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University and wasn't involved in the research team.

"The more we know, the more complex the story gets," he said. Scientists used to think H. sapiens evolved from Neanderthals, he said, but now know that both species lived during the same time period and that we did not come from Neanderthals.

Now a similar discovery applies further back in time.

They, of course, know nothing of the kind. Indeed, the ability to interbreed points up the inanity of referring to Neanderthal as a separate species, just as the distinction between homo erectus and homo habilis looks more and more imaginary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 8, 2007 2:21 PM

True, "species" is a human construct, a map and not the territory, but that doesn't mean the concept is invalid. You remind me of my friend who's argued that "there's no such thing as race," because neat lines can't be drawn. But his argument, and yours, is equivalent to claiming that dawn and dusk somehow refute the concepts of night and day.

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 8, 2007 4:54 PM

Exactly. What you mean by species is just race. Unfortunately, since Darwinism became the basis of genocide biologists can no longer discuss such a concept.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2007 6:02 PM

Where is the friend I seek at break of day?
When night falls, I still have not found Him.
My burning heart shows me His traces.
I see His traces wherever flowers bloom.
His love is mingled with every air.
His voice calls in the summer wind.

- from a poem quoted in Bergman's Wild Strawberries to break up an argument over the existence of God... (anyone know the author?)

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 9, 2007 2:09 AM