Call someone a baboon, and you might have to prepare for a fight. But if you called Homo erectus a baboon—and if one were alive today—he or she might say, “Yep.”
That’s because H. erectus probably lived in complex, multilevel societies similar to those of modern hamadryas baboons. At least, that’s the case anthropologists Larissa Swedell and Thomas Plummer, both at Queens College, City University of New York, make in the International Journal of Primatology. Swedell and Plummer argue that a dry environment led both species to evolve intricate social structures.
Yep, this. There was a Sagan quote on similar lines, but since I’ve not posted any Steven Pinker quotes. :)
This quote is part of Pinker’s answer to the question: Can You Believe in God and Evolution? His complete answer was:
It’s natural to think that living things must be the handiwork of a designer. But it was also natural to think that the sun went around the earth. Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity’s highest callings.
Our own bodies are riddled with quirks that no competent engineer would have planned but that disclose a history of trial-and-error tinkering: a retina installed backward, a seminal duct that hooks over the ureter like a garden hose snagged on a tree, goose bumps that uselessly try to warm us by fluffing up long-gone fur.
The moral design of nature is as bungled as its engineering design. What twisted sadist would have invented a parasite that blinds millions of people or a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters? To adapt a Yiddish expression about God: If an intelligent designer lived on Earth, people would break his windows.
The theory of natural selection explains life as we find it, with all its quirks and tragedies. We can prove mathematically that it is capable of producing adaptive life forms and track it in computer simulations, lab experiments and real ecosystems. It doesn’t pretend to solve one mystery (the origin of complex life) by slipping in another (the origin of a complex designer).
Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.
Shift to shore: New model shows extinct tetrapod Ichthyostega couldn’t walk
by Kate Trinajstic, Assoc. Prof., Dept. of Chem. at Curtin Univ.
Palaeontology has gone high-tech: no more wax and plaster-cast models. Instead, 3D data from computed tomography (CT) scans is overturning long-held views of how the earliest land animals moved.
Research published today (May 23, 2012) in Nature reveals how a famous extinct animal, the early four-legged vertebrate (tetrapod) called Ichthyostega, moved on land 360m years ago.
One major problem in putting together fossil skeletons is actually getting the fossil out of the rock, but now palaeontologists don’t have to! Instead, the CT scans allow the virtual preparation of the fossil so delicate bones can be fully isolated and then fitted together so the anatomy can be better understood.
It was this process that has allowed scientists (Stephanie E. Pierce and Professor John R. Hutchinson from the UK’s Royal Veterinary College and Professor Jennifer A. Clack from the University of Cambridge) to overturn long held assumptions on how one of the earliest tetrapods moved from the water on to land…
(read more: PhysOrg) (image: T - Julia Molnar, B - Stephanie Pierce)
Journal reference: Nature
Anthropologist finds explanation for hominin brain evolution in famous fossil
(Phys.org) — One of the world’s most important fossils has a story to tell about the brain evolution of modern humans and their ancestors, according to Florida State University evolutionary anthropologist Dean Falk.
The Taung fossil — the first australopithecine ever discovered — has two significant features that were analyzed by Falk and a group of anthropological researchers. Their findings, which suggest brain evolution was a result of a complex set of interrelated dynamics in childbirth among new bipeds, were published May 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“These findings are significant because they provide a highly plausible explanation as to why the hominin brain might grow larger and more complex,” Falk said.
Mounted specimen on display at the America Museum of Natural History, NYC
Reconstruction by Charles Knight.
When: Miocene to Pliocene (~12 - 3.5 million years ago)
Where: North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa
What: Gomphotheirum is a four tusked extinct proboscidean. Unlike modern elephants which only have enlarged upper incisors as their tusks, Gomphotheirum and its kin had enlarged upper and lower incisors. Neither set of tusks grew as large as living elephants, but the lower jaw was heavily modified and elongated to support the lower tusks. If you look at the photograph of the mounted specimen above, you can see that the actual bone of the mandible extends to almost the tip of the upper tusk. Based on the structure of the skull of Gomphotheirum it is thought the animal had a trunk, though again not one as log as the living species of elephants. Gomphotheirum is on the small side compared to the mammoth and mastodon in the photo with it, and also is a bit smaller than the living african elephant, but about the same size as the asian elephant - standing about 10 ft (3.2 meters) tall at the shoulder. These fourtuskers were proportioned very differently from the asian elephant, however. Their legs were much shorter in proportion to their body. The genus Gomphotheirum originated in North America, but spread throughout most of the world before going extinct in the Pliocene.
Gomphotheirum in the group Gomphotheriidae (shocking I know). Gomphotheres ranged almost world-wide for over ten million years, and it is possible the last one died less than 10,000 years ago. I say only possible as relationships of gomphotheres, and really proboscideans as a whole, are really not well understood. Gomphotheriidae may be a paraphyletic series of taxa (not a ‘real’ group), with some taxa more closely related to the living species than others. Basically if you are interested in paleontology the study of proboscideans is an area that desperately needs more people in it. You also get to look at other cool extinct forms like Deinotherium!
… a monospecific genus of extinct sarcopterygian (lobe-finned “fish”) from the late Devonian period, with many features akin to those of tetrapods (four-legged animals). It is an example from several lines of ancient sarcopterygian “fish” developing adaptations to the oxygen-poor shallow-water habitats of its time, which led to the evolution of tetrapods.Well-preserved fossils were found in 2004 on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada.
Tiktaalik lived approximately 375 million years ago. Paleontologists suggest that it is representative of the transition between non-tetrapod vertebrates (“fish”) such as Panderichthys, known from fossils 380 million years old, and early tetrapods such as Acanthostega and Ichthyostega, known from fossils about 365 million years old. Its mixture of primitive “fish” and derived tetrapod characteristics led one of its discoverers, Neil Shubin, to characterize Tiktaalik as a “fishapod“…
Breaking News: Indiana House Leader Kills Creationism Bill
A bill that would have specifically allowed Indiana’s public schools to teach creationism alongside evolution in science classes has been shelved by the leader of the Indiana House of Representatives.
The proposal cleared the state Senate two weeks ago, but Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma is using a procedural move to kill the proposal for this legislative session.
“It seemed to me not to be a productive discussion, particularly in light that there is a United States Supreme Court case that appears to be on point that very similar language is counter to the constitution,” Bosma said Tuesday. “It looked to me to be buying a lawsuit when the state can ill afford it.”
The original bill proposed by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, simply called for allowing schools to teach creationism, but the Senate revised it to include references to multiple faiths.
House education committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said last week he believed the multiple faiths requirement made the proposal unworkable because it would be almost impossible to find teachers who would know about origin beliefs from so many religions.
Kruse said Tuesday that he had hoped the House would revise the bill to be closer to his original proposal and was disappointed by Bosma’s decision.
Kruse said he will probably introduce the proposal again next year and that lawmakers shouldn’t just rely on the Supreme Court’s 1987 ruling on the teaching of creationism.
“We have five pretty decent Supreme Court members who have been ruling pretty conservative on a lot of different things and they might have had a different ruling,” Kruse said.