Hominids in the House: Distant Relatives

There was a nice article in Nature recently relating a few interesting facts about some startling hominid fossil finds in Kenya, finds which challenge some long-held views on human evolution.

There were two fossils – a broken upper jawbone and an intact skull – nothing too startling in that. But what was startling is that these finds challenge the standard theory that Homo Habilis evolved into the more advanced Homo Erectus, who later evolved into us. Now it appears that they were “sister species”, that they overlapped in time, and lived side by side at some point. Another long-held standard theory bites the dust?

This brings back memories of an article which I read in Scientific American two or three years back. This article stated that, at one point in the past (can’t recall exactly how long ago), no less than thirteen separate species of hominids existed side by side on this planet, each occupying their own little niche. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

It’s even harder to believe that all of them, bar our own direct ancestors, died out solely through natural selection. Methinks our ancestors were just as handy with the old “ethnic cleansing” as many of their dishonorable descendants. Maybe some kind of evolutionary or biological imperative built into us that we’ll have to overcome before we can consider ourselves really “civilized”.

Reminds me of an early episode of Babylon 5, in which a drunken Londo was bragging that the Centauri used to exist alongside another intelligent species on their homeworld, but eventually exterminated them. Londo’s views on this awful genocide? “Good riddance!”

Sounds just like us. The Centauri and Earthers are descended from a common ancestor, if you ask me.

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Some Interesting Prehistoric Stuff

I love to browse the Sci-Tech page (page 154) on BBC1’s Ceefax (teletext) service. There’s always a lot of interesting snippets culled from various sources such as the New Journal of Physics, Nature and Science magazines. My favourite areas of interest are astronomy and space exploration, and palaeontology, and here are a couple of palaeontology snippets from recent pages:

Apparently scientists in Germany, Switzerland and the US claim that they’ve found the point at which the African and Indian elephants split and diverged from a common ancestor. They compared genetic research done on both species and other research done on the extinct woolly mammoth and mastodon, and came to the conclusion that the split occurred 7.6 million years ago.

Another interesting snippet concerns the dinosaurs. Accepted theories state that when the dinosaurs first evolved, they swept all before them, and rendered the earlier, more primitive forms of reptiles (known as dinosauromorphs) quickly extinct. Apparently that’s considered now not to be the case, and both lived side by side for many millions of years.

Just a couple of interesting snippets from the pages of Sci-Tech. Go to Ceefax page 154, and git yerselves ejjicated a bit. 🙂

Fossilised Remains of Giant Dino Bird Found in China

I’m just sitting back, having a late-night cup of tea, and browsing the Ceefax pages on TV (Ceefax is the teletext service of the UK’s BBC TV), and I’ve come across a fascinating page.

Apparently the fossilized remains of a giant bird-like dinosaur have been recently uncovered in the Inner Mongolia region of China. This guy belongs to the same group of dinosaurs that includes the much smaller feathered dinosaurs, some of them as small as chickens, a group which is supposedly linked to (or were) the ancestors of birds. But the other known dinosaurs of this group are all relatively small, while this specimen is a big beast.

Complete with beak and feathers, this monster weighed about 3,080lbs (1,400kg), which is about thirty-five times heavier than other similar feathered dinosaurs. It was 26ft (8m) long, and stood twice as tall as a man at the shoulder. Yet this one was only a young adult when it died, so we can expect an adult specimen to be considerably larger.

Now that would be a real big Christmas Turkey! 🙂

I don’t know how reliable this information is (I usually follow good advice – don’t believe everything you see on TV or read in the papers), but, apparently, the original source is the prestigious science journal, Nature. I’m definitely intrigued enough to look for more information, so this might be something to watch out for.