Young Indiana Jones Discovers Missing Link (maybe....)
April 8, 2010 1:10 PM   Subscribe

"So I called my dad over and about five metres away he started swearing, and I was like 'what did I do wrong?' and he's like, 'nothing, nothing - you found a hominid'."
The remarkable remains of two ancient human-like creatures (hominids) have been found in South Africa. Some researchers dispute that the fossils are of an unknown human species, but others say they may help fill a key gap in the fossil record of human evolution.

Science Magazine (of the AAAS) has posted two research articles and a podcast, free with registration.

There's a short 3-D Video Reconstruction of Australopithecus sediba's skull on the Guardian's website.
posted by zarq (26 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The fossils were discovered in "The Cradle of Humankind" in Maropeng, NZ. They have a photo essay on their website. (That's not a permanent link. I couldn't find one, so I left it out of the FPP.) They have a flickr group and Facebook fan page.
posted by zarq at 1:17 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's been a good year for anthropology.
posted by lekvar at 1:28 PM on April 8, 2010


The remarkable remains of two ancient human-like creatures

They found Statler and Waldorf dead?
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:28 PM on April 8, 2010


Errr.. South Africa. Not New Zealand. :P
posted by zarq at 1:29 PM on April 8, 2010


National Geographic has some awesome photos too.
posted by empatterson at 1:34 PM on April 8, 2010


Great. Now there are two smaller gaps. Nice work, jerks.
posted by Aquaman at 1:42 PM on April 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


Holy crap they found Curious Charley!
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:00 PM on April 8, 2010


How do Fundamentalist Christians rationalize finds like this? Without confabulations like "God creates fossils to test humanity's faith"?

This is pretty damning evidence that humans transitioned from apes to their bald and brainy current form.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:09 PM on April 8, 2010


How do Fundamentalist Christians rationalize finds like this? Without confabulations like "God creates fossils to test humanity's faith"?

This is pretty damning evidence that humans transitioned from apes to their bald and brainy current form.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:09 PM on April 8 [+] [!]


This is exactly why I don't believe in God. I couldn't stand all the tests.
posted by basicchannel at 2:13 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


As homonids evolved we see that their skulls get flatter on top, meaning smaller jaw muscles. The older homonids had huge jaw muscles that anchored on top of the skull, with a big bony mohawky ridge down the center.

*We* seem to have traded biting power for increased cranial capacity. Not that I would have wanted to meet that guy (the Australopithecus) on the savanna. . .likely he'd have me dead and be eating me before I could get my taser out.
posted by Danf at 2:40 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I loved this thread for the hope NZ had human evolution AND rugby.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:42 PM on April 8, 2010


How do Fundamentalist Christians rationalize finds like this? Without confabulations like "God creates fossils to test humanity's faith"?

They think Australopithecus is just an ape.

This essay explaining how Creationists understand the fossil record is jaw-dropping:
All of these mechanisms do away with the notion that horizons of fossils demand successive passages of time during which the organisms lived. In other words, they allow for there to have been only one set of mutually-contemporaneous living things on a young earth, instead of a repetitive replacement of living things over vast periods of time. Most of the earth’s sedimentary record is viewed as being deposited by the Noachian Deluge, and not over successive depositional events in analogues of modern sedimentary environments on an evolving earth.

Unfortunately, some modern creationists have also bought into the belief that successive fossils represent horizons of time. These neo-Cuvierists have, as their original namesakes, relegated the Noachian Deluge to only a small fraction of the earth’s fossiliferous sedimentary rocks. This contradicts common sense as well as Scripture. After all, if all kinds of life had been created by God in six normal-length days several thousand years ago, then all fossil and contemporary life-forms must have been contemporaneous, and it makes absolutely no sense to use succession of fossils to delineate time-stratigraphic horizons in sedimentary rock.


So essentially, 'The most logical and commonly-held theory is nonsense, because we already know that G-d created life in six normal-length days, several thousand years ago.'

Their investigation and understanding of the world around them is skewed by facts that they are unable to question or adapt to new information. So new information or discoveries must therefore be adapted to fit their understanding. It's like anti-science.
posted by zarq at 2:45 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how accurate carbon dating is?
posted by giftideas at 3:14 PM on April 8, 2010


How do Fundamentalist Christians rationalize finds like this? Without confabulations like "God creates fossils to test humanity's faith"?

He's a prankster God!
posted by LordSludge at 3:14 PM on April 8, 2010


> Some researchers dispute that the fossils are of an unknown human species

Splitters win initially but lumpers win out over time.
posted by jfuller at 4:05 PM on April 8, 2010


zarq: I love that the essay you posted was first published in Technical Journal, now renamed to the much more accurate (ideology-wise) Journal of Creation.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:45 PM on April 8, 2010


Danf, I think you may be thinking of these guys, which, while awesome, are definitely an offshoot from the main branch of human evolution. If you take a peek at this chart, you can see that, while overall cranium size has increased, the general shape has remained more or less similar, which is sad, because sagittal crests are (as noted earlier) awesome.

As for getting an australopithecine beatdown: it was the rare australopithecus who reached 5ft tall, and most evidence points to the Homo genus as when serious meat eating happened. Carnivory among robust australopithecines has even less evidence to support it.



But yeah, you'd totally get your ass whupped.
posted by Panjandrum at 4:47 PM on April 8, 2010


Just heard his Dad on NPR, saying something along the lines of: "He wants to be a paleoanthropologist. I don't know if he's going to be able to top this discovery. Thank God I found the second one, or it would have been tough to live with him." :)
posted by darkstar at 5:14 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


To add to Panjandrum, the robust (or late-grade) australopithecines in question, the ones with the bad-ass sagittal crests, evolved after our human ancestors split off from the australopith lineage. Here's a good chart.
posted by a.steele at 5:16 PM on April 8, 2010


Ah, on second gander, it looks like that's probably what you meant by "offshoot," no? Still, that chart is helpful in understanding that it's not a strict linear evolution. Our ancestors lived with these guys for a little while, sometimes even in the same habitats. Our bigger-brains began evolving as a result of various factors related to the transition to a more meat-based diet (so we weren't competing for the same food sources).
posted by a.steele at 5:29 PM on April 8, 2010


Stories like this make me realize (again!) what fucking losers my parents are.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:29 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


There really are no missing links. Every creature that ever lived is a transitional form and no mother ever gave birth to a species different from her own. Species only make sense within a contemporaneous time. Once you're looking at the fossil record, they become less well defined.
posted by empath at 5:39 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Carl Zimmer: A brand-new Australopithecus fossil is fascinating and important. But it's not one of our direct ancestors.
posted by homunculus at 6:46 PM on April 8, 2010


To that mindset, whenever you find The Missing Link, you just end up with two missing links.
posted by Malor at 12:26 AM on April 9, 2010


How do Fundamentalist Christians rationalize finds like this? Without confabulations like "God creates fossils to test humanity's faith"?

There's an amazing transcript of an exchange with a creationist in The Greatest Show on Earth. She doesn't even rationalize the finds, she just claims they don't exist. There are no fossils, she repeats over and over. "Show me the evidence." "Why aren't there skeletons in the museum?" It's pretty incredible. And ironic, coming from someone who believes in an invisible man in the sky.
posted by DU at 4:41 AM on April 9, 2010


Google Earth played a significant role in this find:
Back in March 2008, Professor Lee Berger from Witswatersrand University in Johannesburg started to use Google Earth to map various known caves and fossil deposits identified by him and his colleagues over the past several decades, as it seemed the ideal platform by which to share information with other scientists. In addition, he also used Google Earth to locate new fossil deposits by learning to identify what cave sites looked like in satellite images.
Stepping up from simple Google sightseeing and random specticles, or finding guerilla growing spots.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:00 AM on April 9, 2010


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