So this is an interesting discovery:
'All bets now off' on which ape was humanity's ancestor
Researchers have discovered a nearly complete 3.8-million-year-old skull of an early ape-like human ancestor in Ethiopia.
An analysis of the new specimen challenges ideas about how the first humans evolved from ape-like ancestors.
The current view that an ape named Lucy was among a species that gave rise to the first early humans may have to be reconsidered.
The discovery is reported in the journal Nature.
The skull was found by Prof Yohannes Haile-Selassie at a place called Miro Dora, which is in the Mille District of Ethiopia's Afar Regional State.
The scientist, who's affiliated to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, US, said he immediately recognised the significance of the fossil.
The reason for this likely elevated status is because we can now say that anamensis and afarensis actually overlapped in time. The former did not evolve directly into the latter in a neat linear manner, as previously supposed.
The realisation comes about through the reinterpretation that the new fossil brings to bear on a previously discovered 3.9-million-year-old skull fragment. That fragment had been assigned to anamensis. Scientists can now see it is actually the remains of an afarensis, pushing this species' origin deeper into the past.
It's apparent now the two species must have co-existed for at least 100,000 years.
What most likely happened was that a small group of anamensis isolated itself from the main population and over time evolved into afarensis because of adaptations to local conditions. The two types rubbed along for a while before the remnant anamensis died out.
The finding is important because it suggests that additional overlaps with other advanced ape-like species may also have occurred, increasing the number of potential evolutionary routes to the first humans.
In short, although this latest discovery does not disprove that Lucy's kind gave rise to the Homo group, it does bring other recently named species into contention. Prof Haile-Selassie agreed that "all bets are now off" as to which species is humanity's direct ancestor.
It made me think of a pattern that I've noticed, and led me to a hypothesis regarding why we are the way we are as a species.
Our evolutionary origins are a tangled web of interconnections among many hominid species, not a linear progression like those simplistic diagrams of an ape slowly standing up and walking. We currently don't know how we came to be from all the prior hominid species that existed, but the pattern that stands out to me is one of multiple hominid species overlapping in space and time until one ends up prevailing while the other goes extinct, and then the pattern is repeated, and that's been going on for the past 5-10 million years (give or take).
The last great inter-hominid conflict was apparently between Cro-Magnon/early modern humans and Neanderthals. They may have coexisted for a long time (millennia, even), but then a tipping-point was reached through some mechanism (climate change, population pressure, disease, etc.) and one hominid species actively finishes off the other in a mass-slaughter. Hominids like the little "hobbit" people didn't stand a chance.
This is even going on in other primate genera; consider chimpanzees vs. bonobos. They're overlapping in space and time, for now. At some point, if they were put into intense enough conflict, the chimps would probably end up slaughtering all the bonobos.
Our evolution may be a series of those kinds of genocidal dichotomies, basically. Whichever species killed off the other passed on its DNA, and then the winner of the next conflict did the same, so we posses the genetic heritage of millions of years of rather brutal "selection pressures," i.e., we're expert as mass-killing other hominids because we had to be to survive.
And now that we've vanquished all competing hominid species and achieved unambiguous dominance, we've turned our evolutionary fight/flight responses towards other hominid species on each other, which I suspect is how racism came to be.
There was a time when to fear and mistrust other bipedal primates who didn't look like you was the correct and prudent thing to do since those "others" were literally not the same species as you and your kin.
I'm talking tens of thousands of years ago, and beyond. If those instincts have been hard-wired into our DNA for millions of years then it's not going to be easy to turn them off. Since there are no other species of hominid left to be wary of, we turn that instinct on each other by focusing on superficial differences. This is my hypothesis, anyway. It does seem to explain the otherwise baffling resilience of racism, and our propensity for mass murder.
I'm still baffled as to what to do about things like racism or our propensity for mass-murder. Maybe gene therapy? (I'm joking, probably)
And in other news, this aside mentioned in the article was a surprise since I'd never heard it before:
The discovery of the first afarensis skeleton in 1974 caused a sensation. She was nicknamed Lucy by researchers after the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, which was playing at the excavation site.
So the fossil that became a household name around the world and revealed one of our earliest upright ancestors was named after LSD. That is freakin' awesome, lol. And what a trip that must've been...
Edited by TVCasualty, 29 August 2019 - 12:46 PM.