Friday, June 29, 2012

Geeking Out Over Evolution

Many of you know that I spent a good chunk of my undergrad career studying about human evolution and creating my "Discovery Timeline" exhibit for the Matson Museum of Anthropology up at Penn State. The evolution and origin of man has always been a subject that I've continued to study and plan to work into as many of the GIS projects for Grad School as possible (already have a great idea for my Spatial Analysis Class on the spread of discoveries).

The other day one of my good friends sent me a link on facebook to an article on titled Humans Ate Leaves, Wood and Bark. This article talked about a discovery back in 2008 of Australopithecus sediba a specimen that they found lived in the trees as well as the ground and seemed to have a diet strictly of plant materials. It is a fascinating article and I think everyone should read it. This specimen is one of the specimen that has been reported to possibly be the "missing link."

Yes I realize that sentence had a lot of vague verbage because well the whole "missing link" concept is a controversial one not only among creationists of course but in the scientific community as well. Is there really just one "missing link" or are there multiple stages that bring us from quadrupeds to bipeds? I think it's the latter. Also, I personally hate the phrase "missing link." Why does it have to be missing? Using that phrase makes it sound like some mythological creature which it isn't. It also makes it seem almost like a joke that we'll always be looking for it but never truly find it. Plus there is the idea with the word missing that once we put it in the evolutionary tree,  it will be complete. Yeah, that's not going to happen. Have you looked at the tree lately (it is the diagram at the top of this page) and seen how many branches really are on it? It is safe to say then that there are many stages and many branches that have to be filled.

In addition to Australopithecus sediba, there is also Ardipithecus ramidus which had the same attributes as this specimen but ate meat as well as plants. "Ardi" as Dr. Alan Walker and Richard Leakey (the paleontologists who discovered him) deemed him was an example of an ape-like hominid who lived in the trees but also could walk along the ground on two feet similar to Australopithecus sediba. The difference is these two specimens are not on the same branch at all in the evolutionary tree so neither can really be called the "missing link." 

Now I might have a biased towards liking Ardi better since I happened to have taken Dr. Alan Walker's last class before he retired (yes I will keep bringing that up until the day I die) but I feel that if anything was closer to that bridge between quadruped and biped then it would be Ardi. Still neither of these specimens have proved anything quite yet because like I said earlier we need more specimens, more evidence.

So that is my Evolutionary rant/geek out for the week. If anyone is interested in reading the text for my evolution exhibit I have the pdf version of it (it is literally a 50 page long discovery timeline). Wish I could publish it but technically Penn State has the rights to the text since it is part of the exhibit. I can however share it with anyone who is interested since after all it is open to the public to view.


Lilac Wolf (Angie or Angela) said...

I'm not sure how far I will get, but I'd love to read it.

Sam Curtin said...

Lol! It's actually more like 36 pages and includes a lot of pictures, diagrams and such. I can send it to you if you'd like :)

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