Thursday, April 07, 2005

Human's Oldest Ancestor

More Evidence of Skull's Link to Humans

Remains Believed To Be From Earliest Known Ancestor

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2005; Page A03

Scientists who three years ago discovered a nearly complete 7 million-year-old skull in central Africa have dug up additional evidence supporting the conclusion that the skull belonged to the earliest known human ancestor.

The new findings -- two jaw bones and an upper premolar tooth -- lend credence to the proposition that the creature was probably among the first hominid, or human-like, primates to live after humans and chimpanzees diverged from each other a little more than 7 million years ago.

Color me skeptical on all this, but from a lay perspective, I just don't see how fragments can lead to such definitive conclusions. I know that I'm missing the whole picture and that very smart people are at work on these issues, but it has never quite added up for me.

Foremost among several tentative lines of evidence for Toumai being a hominid is his canine tooth, which is far shorter than the prominent canines sported by all apes, both today and in the past. The newly discovered premolar tooth is also more human than ape, the team noted in a report published today in the journal Nature.

But equally compelling, scientists said, is a computer-assisted reconstruction of the skull described in an accompanying Nature article.

Canine and pre-molar teeth, ergo, habem humanem. I dunno. There's huge chunks of this story that we are not getting. 200 years from now, it'll be much clearer and our conclusions would be so much more primitive and simplistic. I do believe in an evolutionary process. I am not convinced in the hows and the explanations, but the scientists are doing what they can with what they have and we'll see.

One thing that bothers me is that, for instance, the move from the ape-like sharper canines to the less sharper one's of the human type, is a development that takes a while and so much evolutionary effort and coincidence. Add then consider and add all the numerous subtle changes full anatomy-wise and speciation just should happen that quickly. Again, I'm ignorant about this stuff and trust the scientists. I'm just saying.


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