Thursday, March 04, 2004

Fossil Hominids From the New York Times comes this article about recently discovered fossil finds in Africa. In recent years many of the gaps in human evolution have been filled in by numerous fossil finds. When only a handful of such species were known (such as Homo Erectus or the Australopithecines), creationists used to delight in explaining to paleontologists how this or that fossil was actually either totally ape or totally human (sometimes with a hypothetical nutritional disorder thrown in to explain certain distinctly ape-like features afflicting an otherwise human-like fossil). With more than two dozen distinct species in the fossil record today, it is getting harder and harder for them to maintain this fiction.

Another species has been added to the family tree of early human ancestors — and to controversies over how straight or tangled were the branches of that tree.

Long before Homo erectus, Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy, more than three million years ago) and several other distant kin, scientists are reporting today, there lived a primitive hominid species in what is now Ethiopia about 5.5 million to 5.8 million years ago.

That would make the newly recognizied species one of the earliest known human ancestors, perhaps one of the first to emerge after the chimpanzee and human lineages diverged from a common ancestor some six million to eight million years ago.

The timing of the fateful split has been determined by molecular biological research, and in recent years fossil hunters have found traces of what those earliest hominids, human ancestors and their close relatives, might have been like.


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