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Old 05-20-2009, 03:10 AM   #1 (permalink)
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"The Missing Link" Unveiled!

Is this it? Is this the missing link in our human evolution, tracing us back to all primates?

Quote:
"MISSING LINK" PHOTOS: New Fossil Links Humans, Lemurs?

May 19, 2009—Meet "Ida," the small "missing link" fossil that's created a big media splash and will likely continue to make waves among those who study human origins.

In a new book, documentary, and promotional Web site, paleontologist Jorn Hurum, who led the team that analyzed the 47-million-year-old fossil seen above, suggests Ida is a critical "missing link" species in primate evolution.

The fossil, he says, bridges the evolutionary split between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans and their more distant relatives such as lemurs.

"This is the first link to all humans," Hurum, of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway, said in a statement. Ida represents "the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor."

Ida, properly known as Darwinius masillae, has a unique anatomy. The lemur-like skeleton features primate-like characteristics, including grasping hands, opposable thumbs, clawless digits with nails, and relatively short limbs.

"This specimen looks like a really early fossil monkey that belongs to the group that includes us," said Brian Richmond, a biological anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study.

But there's a big gap in the fossil record from this time period, Richmond noted. Researchers are unsure when and where the primate group that includes monkeys, apes, and humans split from the other group of primates that includes lemurs.

"[Ida] is one of the important branching points on the evolutionary tree," Richmond said, "but it's not the only branching point."

At least one aspect of Ida is unquestionably unique: her incredible preservation, unheard of in specimens from the Eocene era, when early primates underwent a period of rapid evolution. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)

"From this time period there are very few fossils, and they tend to be an isolated tooth here or maybe a tailbone there," Richmond explained. "So you can't say a whole lot of what that [type of fossil] represents in terms of evolutionary history or biology."

In Ida's case, scientists were able to examine fossil evidence of fur and soft tissue and even picked through the remains of her last meal: fruits, seeds, and leaves.

What's more, the newly described fossil was unearthed in Germany's Messel Pit. Ida's European origins are intriguing, Richmond said, because they could suggest—contrary to common assumptions—that the continent was an important area for primate evolution.

—Brian Handwerk
Photographs courtesy PLoS ONE
"MISSING LINK" PHOTOS: New Fossil Links Humans, Lemurs?

As we discover more about our ancestry, it continues to reinforce Darwin's theory of evolution. And here we have what is possibly a common ancestor.

Of course, this suggests a further blow to Creationism. It suggests that evolutionary theory is a science and should be taught as such. Look...evidence.

What is your reaction to this finding?
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Old 05-20-2009, 03:49 AM   #2 (permalink)
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It was only a matter of time until something like this showed up.

It won't change the minds of those who don't think explains where we came from.
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Old 05-20-2009, 04:13 AM   #3 (permalink)
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God put that there to test our faith.
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Old 05-20-2009, 04:50 AM   #4 (permalink)
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God put that there to test our faith.
ha I was thinking the same thing. I already know people here that are going to start using that, as well as the "somebody made it and planted it there just to throw people off track" arguments. I don't know why people are so quick to discredit science, when it's clear we've only scratched the surface.
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Old 05-20-2009, 05:04 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by JumpinJesus
God put that there to test our faith.
God allowed the Devil to put that there to test our faith.

Devil Bones Tee from Teach the Controversy T-Shirts


Anyway...there is a whole pile of evidence that supports evolution whether you include this fossil or not. This is just another twig in the dam. To pull any one out and call it the missing link is a bit overdramatic at this point.
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Old 05-20-2009, 05:34 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Wait, you're saying we descended from skeletons? That's just crazy.
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Old 05-20-2009, 05:39 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Anthropology nerd here.

I haven't read enough about this specific fossil to comment much, other than that it makes me a little sad that people hardly ever take interest in anthropology unless it's a big find like this - or something like Lucy.

Personally, I would argue that we will never find a "true" missing link between apes/monkeys/humans because the way that evolution occurs means that a single identifiable species that split into three different lines (or even two distinct lines) may not actually exist, and probably will not exist in the very limited fossil record.

It's most likely that a species of early primate split into two populations, each of those populations undergoing changes that eventually led to apes and humans as two distinct ends. The phases in between may or may not be distinct - it's likely that the two populations were capable of interbreeding for a while, though appearing to be distinct species (especially by that standard by which we must classify species in fossils), but eventually one group became isolated enough to evolve differently.

It's difficult to draw lines between species, because there are MANY different definitions of the term, and the fossil definition of species is different from the biological definition, as we can't quite test an interbreeding theory on creatures that lived millions of years ago.

/end nerd-rant
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Old 05-20-2009, 05:46 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Here is a link to the published paper: PLoS ONE: Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology


After some further reading, it appears the fossil originally was in two pieces that were known about for some time, but owned privately, they have just finally been brought together in the American Museum of Natural History. Also, the bottom piece has been artificially 'enhanced', although, to what degree I'm not sure (I didn't read the whole article).
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Old 05-20-2009, 06:01 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by PonyPotato View Post
Personally, I would argue that we will never find a "true" missing link between apes/monkeys/humans because the way that evolution occurs means that a single identifiable species that split into three different lines (or even two distinct lines) may not actually exist, and probably will not exist in the very limited fossil record.

It's most likely that a species of early primate split into two populations, each of those populations undergoing changes that eventually led to apes and humans as two distinct ends. The phases in between may or may not be distinct - it's likely that the two populations were capable of interbreeding for a while, though appearing to be distinct species (especially by that standard by which we must classify species in fossils), but eventually one group became isolated enough to evolve differently.
Pretty much agree. Evolution just doesn't work as neatly as the newspapers would like.
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Old 05-20-2009, 06:14 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Thanks for the explanation, PonyPotato. This is why anthropologists still have a lot of work to do!
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Old 05-20-2009, 08:28 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by PonyPotato View Post
Anthropology nerd here.
That's the best kind of nerd!
Quote:
Originally Posted by PonyPotato View Post
I haven't read enough about this specific fossil to comment much, other than that it makes me a little sad that people hardly ever take interest in anthropology unless it's a big find like this - or something like Lucy.

Personally, I would argue that we will never find a "true" missing link between apes/monkeys/humans because the way that evolution occurs means that a single identifiable species that split into three different lines (or even two distinct lines) may not actually exist, and probably will not exist in the very limited fossil record.

It's most likely that a species of early primate split into two populations, each of those populations undergoing changes that eventually led to apes and humans as two distinct ends. The phases in between may or may not be distinct - it's likely that the two populations were capable of interbreeding for a while, though appearing to be distinct species (especially by that standard by which we must classify species in fossils), but eventually one group became isolated enough to evolve differently.

It's difficult to draw lines between species, because there are MANY different definitions of the term, and the fossil definition of species is different from the biological definition, as we can't quite test an interbreeding theory on creatures that lived millions of years ago.

/end nerd-rant
Sure, it's highly improbable that we'll fine the specific species from which we diverged, but it's not impossible. If this is that species, if it can be demonstrated through rigorous testing that this is the common ancestor, this will be one of the great archeological finds of the century. it will help us better understand the divergence that eventually meant the difference between advanced motor skills and basic society on one side and technology, language and civilization on the other. It's goosebump inspiring!

And you're right, just like the Raiders need fans more when they're not winning, anthropology needs anthropology nerds in the times between Lucys.
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Old 05-20-2009, 08:47 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Wait, you're saying we descended from skeletons? That's just crazy.
heh

and I wish we still had tails, cause that would be, you know, cool
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Old 05-20-2009, 10:53 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Fugly,
my wife sometimes says I have too many tales...but that might be because every once in a while I whip out my Missing Linc album (see below) and listen to it for reference purposes.

Otherwise, I just see this skeleton as another seemingly important piece of the puzzle...and we have so few pieces that I find it a bit of a stretch to start making too many conclusions from such sparse evidence. As far as those who discount evolution...I can't even fanthom a reply to that absurdity.

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Old 05-20-2009, 01:21 PM   #14 (permalink)
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I would have expected a find like this in Africa instead of Europe. I guess I'll have to look up the configuration of the continents 50 million years ago.
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Old 05-21-2009, 01:02 PM   #15 (permalink)
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I would have expected a find like this in Africa instead of Europe. I guess I'll have to look up the configuration of the continents 50 million years ago.
"Shortly after the Cretaceous ended, about 50 million years ago, the Tethys Ocean began to close and the continents looked like this:"
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Old 05-21-2009, 01:45 PM   #16 (permalink)
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we have so few pieces that I find it a bit of a stretch to start making too many conclusions from such sparse evidence.
I am not an anthro nerd, so maybe PP can back me up, but as I understand it:
1) We have tons (literally) of evidence--considering how specific conditions need to be for fossilization, we have an absolute plethora.
2) This is not any more or less significant than many pieces we already have
3) There isn't a shred of evidence that contradicts evolution, and there are many shared traits along the branching pathways that support and reinforce the idea that the species diversity was all a result of a diverging/branching ancestral lineage.
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Old 05-21-2009, 02:11 PM   #17 (permalink)
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1) We have tons (literally) of evidence--considering how specific conditions need to be for fossilization, we have an absolute plethora.
That's one of the biggest problems with "missing links" or any other aspect of paleaontology - because many parts of the world don't lend themselves to fossilization very well, many species along a given evolutionary path may never be discovered. For instance, jungle environments do not yield a lot of fossils.
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Old 05-21-2009, 11:14 PM   #18 (permalink)
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and I wish we still had tails, cause that would be, you know, cool
It seems like they would get in the way when doing it doggy style. Though if they were prehensile, you could get a tail job. And how would pants work? You'd have a hole right above your anus. Plus there's the added social complexity of having a tail: how to carry it, how to move it, when and where touching a tail is appropriate, etc... I have enough trouble with social conventions with my existing body parts, I don't need another one complicating things further. Anyways, back to more serious points...
Quote:
Originally Posted by PonyPotato View Post
Personally, I would argue that we will never find a "true" missing link between apes/monkeys/humans because the way that evolution occurs means that a single identifiable species that split into three different lines (or even two distinct lines) may not actually exist, and probably will not exist in the very limited fossil record.
Not to mention the fact that "species" is a human construct, and somewhat nonsensical when applied to evolution.
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Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post
Of course, this suggests a further blow to Creationism.
If all of the evidence amassed so far hasn't stopped Creationism, this fossil won't either.
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Old 05-27-2009, 05:09 AM   #19 (permalink)
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The real news here is that a fossil of a transitional species was so well preserved. We pretty much knew what it would look like because we knew what came before it and what came after it. Every time you fill in a gap you create two more. The science is being lost in the hype of a movie and a book about it. Sky News actually said it finally proved Darwin's theory of evolution, as if 150 years of research were inconclusive (dear biologists, fuck you, your work up to now has been meaningless.) Archaeopteryx was a significant missing link because it was the conclusive proof of a link between dinosaurs and birds. Ida is a transitional species that's more like getting excited over finding a missing puzzle piece when you already know what the puzzle looks like. We knew there was a link because of DNA similarities and because everything we already knew showed that if you went back far enough, there was an evolutionary split. The hype over this is diluting the science.
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Old 05-27-2009, 07:33 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by PonyPotato View Post
Anthropology nerd here.

I haven't read enough about this specific fossil to comment much, other than that it makes me a little sad that people hardly ever take interest in anthropology unless it's a big find like this - or something like Lucy.

Personally, I would argue that we will never find a "true" missing link between apes/monkeys/humans because the way that evolution occurs means that a single identifiable species that split into three different lines (or even two distinct lines) may not actually exist, and probably will not exist in the very limited fossil record.

It's most likely that a species of early primate split into two populations, each of those populations undergoing changes that eventually led to apes and humans as two distinct ends. The phases in between may or may not be distinct - it's likely that the two populations were capable of interbreeding for a while, though appearing to be distinct species (especially by that standard by which we must classify species in fossils), but eventually one group became isolated enough to evolve differently.

It's difficult to draw lines between species, because there are MANY different definitions of the term, and the fossil definition of species is different from the biological definition, as we can't quite test an interbreeding theory on creatures that lived millions of years ago.

/end nerd-rant
All species necessarily have a single common ancestor, unless you believe life evolved multiple times. There is undoubtedly a "missing link" between all the apes/monkeys/humans at least as I understand missing link, which is a single species that links the origin of the species in question. As in the missing link between us and chimps is the most recent common ancestor that gave rise to both of us.
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Old 05-27-2009, 02:14 PM   #21 (permalink)
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"Shortly after the Cretaceous ended, about 50 million years ago, the Tethys Ocean began to close and the continents looked like this:"
I wonder how and when that little devil or it's ancestors got down to Africa?
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