Sunday, March 26, 2006

Potential Missing Link Remains Unearthed in Ethiopia.

In an announcement that is certain to drive the Intelligent Design (Creationist) crowd even further into Denialville, the remains of another candidate in the sweepstakes to be the missing link between Homo Erectus and modern man were recently found in Ethiopia. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Scientists in northeastern Ethiopia said Saturday that they have discovered the skull of a small human ancestor that could be a missing link between the extinct Homo erectus and modern man.

The hominid cranium, found in two pieces and believed to be between 500,000 and 250,000 years old, "comes from a very significant period and is very close to the appearance of the anatomically modern human," said Sileshi Semaw, director of the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project in Ethiopia.

Archaeologists found the early human cranium five weeks ago at Gawis in Ethiopia's northeastern Afar region, Sileshi said. Several stone tools and fossilized animals including two types of pigs, zebras, elephants, antelopes, cats, and rodents were also found at the site.

Sileshi, an Ethiopian paleoanthropologist based at Indiana University, said most fossil hominids are found in pieces but the near-complete skull, a rare find, provided a wealth of information. "The Gawis cranium provides us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors," the archaeology project said in a statement.

Homo erectus, which many believe was an ancestor of modern Homo sapiens, is thought to have died out 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. The cranium dates to a time about which little is known, the transition from African Homo erectus to modern humans. The fossil record from Africa for this period is sparse and most of the specimens poorly dated, project archaeologists said.

The face and cranium of the fossil are recognizably different from those of modern humans, but bear unmistakable anatomical evidence that it belongs to the modern human's ancestry, Sileshi said.

Homo erectus left Africa about 2 million years ago and spread across Asia from Georgia in the Caucasus to China and Indonesia. It first appeared in Africa between 1 million and 2 million years ago. Between 1 million and perhaps 200,000 years ago, one or more species existed in Africa that gave rise to the earliest members of our own species Homo sapiens, between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago.

"This is really exciting because it joins a limited number of fossils which appear to be evolutionary between Homo erectus and our own species Homo sapiens," said Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, who was not involved in the discovery but has followed the project.

Delson said the fossil found in Ethiopia "might represent a population broadly ancestral to modern humans or it might prove to be one of several side branches which died out without living descendants."

Snarky intro aside, this is a fascinating find on two major levels: One, it shows that the notion of the missing link is close to being a reality. Two, it further underscores a point that makes the ID advocates seem even sillier than they usually seem.

As detailed in the last sentence of the excerpt, it is well known that dozens of potential lines of ancient humans and proto-humans existed, but they are not around today because they were unable to adapt to their world (evolve) the way the immediate ancestors of modern Homo Sapiens could, and did.

Maybe this argument will make the IDers listen to reason for a change. Nah. They'll probably just twist the argument around to say that this discovery is proof that God tapped Homo Sapiens on the shoulder to inherit the world. Of course that would imply that God, either through aggression or negligence, condemned His (Her?) OTHER humanoid creations to extinction without a second thought. I have a feeling such a question would never occur to the average IDer.

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