Thursday, August 09, 2007

"unlike fossils -- anthropological theory is seldom fixed in stone"

Via MSN - 2 Human Ancestors Probably Co-Existed
A fragment of upper jaw and a skull found in Africa are helping rewrite the textbook on how mankind came to be millions of years ago.

Gone is the step-wise theory of one ancient species, Homo habilis, dying off as another, Homo erectus, takes over -- to give rise later to modern-day Homo sapiens.

In its place are two fossils uncovered in Kenya that appear to show habilis and erectus lived together in close proximity for more than half a million years, about 1.5 million years ago.

The findings, from a paleontology team led by Meave Leakey, wife of renowned paleontologist Richard Leakey, were published Wednesday in the Aug. 9 issue of the journal Nature.

"If they are correct, that simple kind of tree -- where you went from habilis and erectus takes over -- clearly is no longer the case," said Jeffrey Laitman, director of the Center for Anatomy and Functional Morphology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City.
It's not surprising to me that such a find would come along and paleontologist would have to change their ideas. I studied anthropology and human evolution as my major area of study (within a social science degree program) as an undergraduate. Certainly this doesn't make me an expert, but did reveal to me all the guesswork that goes into creating theories about creatures that lived and things that happened millions of years ago. There is such limited information out there, or at least a very limited amount that has been unearthed and studied in a scientifically non-biased way. Human beings have a need to know, and researchers have a need to act like they know or have found indisputable proof of something.

As the article goes on to point out:
Still, Laitman cautioned that -- unlike fossils -- anthropological theory is seldom fixed in stone.

"These fossils don't come with name tags on them, and this is tough stuff to try and pinpoint," he said.
But the truth is, we will probably never know. For all we know, we are really the descendants of Golgafrinchan hairdressers.

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