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Earth Science

Ancient Fossil Offers Clues To Primate Evolution 311

Posted by Soulskill
from the unless-you're-from-kansas dept.
langelgjm sends in an update to a story we discussed over the weekend about an extremely well-preserved fossil of an ancient primate, Darwinius masillae, that sheds light on an important area of evolution. The 47 million-year-old specimen has now been officially unveiled, and while many media outlets are stumbling over themselves with phrases like "missing link" and "holy grail," it's clearly a very impressive find. "Discovered two years ago, the exquisitely preserved specimen is not a direct ancestor of monkeys and humans, but hints at what such an ancestor might have looked like. According to researchers, 'The specimen has an unusual history: it was privately collected and sold in two parts, with only the lesser part previously known. The second part, which has just come to light, shows the skeleton to be the most complete primate known in the fossil record.' The scientific article describing the find was published yesterday in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal PLoS ONE. Google's home page is also celebrating the find with a unique image." Science blogger Brian Switek offers some criticism of the academic paper and the media swarm, saying, "I would have hoped that this fossil would receive the care and attention it deserves, but for now it looks like a cash cow for the History Channel. Indeed, this association may not have only presented overblown claims to the public, but hindered good science, as well."
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Ancient Fossil Offers Clues To Primate Evolution

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  • by Nursie (632944) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:39AM (#28024569)

    ... says it's a hoax. Any takers?

    Actually, even if not, the circumstances are now rather dubious. Hopefully it hasn't been damaged in the course of it being sold in two parts and shipped around in private hands.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:49AM (#28024665)

      ... says it's a hoax.

      Of course its a hoax. everyone knows the earth is only 6000 years old.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:53AM (#28024707)
        Would you stop this Christianity bashing already? We admit it, it was a mistake, the earth is older than 6000 years. It's just that very few of us are capable of counting any higher. :(
        • Would you stop this Christianity bashing already? We admit it, it was a mistake, the earth is older than 6000 years

          Damn right! It's 6013 years old.

        • Besides primate evolution is essential to the church. They start as vicars, progress to bishops and eventually end up as primate.
    • by Talderas (1212466) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:50AM (#28024681)

      ... says it's a hoax. Any takers?

      It's a pseudo-hoax. I'm sure the citizens of Magrathea are quite pleased that we're stumbling upon the little details they left.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It was found over 25 years ago - why is it just now getting attention. Sound like a play for grant money to me

      • by penguin_dance (536599) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @02:07PM (#28028617)

        Not just that, it was allegedly found by an amateur and hung in a collector's living room for 20 years [sky.com]!

        Ida was unearthed by an amateur fossil-hunter some 25 years ago in Messel pit, an ancient crater lake near Frankfurt, Germany, famous for its fossils.

        She was cleaned and set in polyester resin - and incredibly, was hung on a mystery German collector's wall for 20 years.

        Sky News sources say the owner had no idea of the unique fossil's significance and simply admired it like a cherished Van Gogh or Picasso painting.

        But in 2006, Ida came into the hands of private dealer Thomas Perner, who presented her to Prof Hurum at the annual Hamburg Fossil and Mineral Fair in Germany - a centre for the murky world of fossil-trading.

        So the word, "fake" has crossed my mind too!

    • by Alt_Cognito (462081) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:58AM (#28024765)

      This was studied for two years before it was released, so it seems that they've done some due diligence to make sure this was NOT a hoax.

      X-rays were taken taken of the internal structures (which are allegedly impossible to fake) and they proved out to be authentic.

    • Ex. (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ... says it's a hoax.

      Of course it's not a hoax...it's my Ex. I just forgot where I buried her.

    • by just_another_sean (919159) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:17AM (#28024969) Homepage Journal

      No way, Google [gmodules.com] changed their logo for this! It *has* to be real!

  • Give it a rest (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Azghoul (25786) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:46AM (#28024631) Homepage

    Oh noes! People made money off it!! Science was "hindered"!

    Please. Any hindrance is temporary (47 million years old and it's been a couple more years! Avast!!) and the fossil getting this much attention can only help the cause - money pouring into the area isn't a bad thing either unless you really like staying a poor researcher.

    • by noundi (1044080)
      Except they fucking cut it in half. 47 million years and it was never, not even once, severed, until ink stained cotton sheets were in control.
      • by pnewhook (788591)

        True. Except for the fact that until it is cut in half, all you have is a rock. You have to cut the rock to see whats inside..

    • by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:33AM (#28026167) Journal
      That reminds me of the museum guide who, when asked how old the T-Rex fossil was, replied: "6.5 million and three years, and 6 months old".

      "That's amazing", said the tourist, "How do you know the age so exactly?"
      "Well, that's easy", replied the guide. "It was 6.5 million years old when I started working here, and that was three and a half years ago."
  • by MosesJones (55544) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:49AM (#28024657) Homepage

    Isn't it rather scary that while scientists are getting excited over this 47 million year old fossil that there are fossils in Congress who will swear on a stack of Bibles that the earth is only 6000 years old and that evolution is bunk.

    That people can get elected without having basic modern ape like intelligence is the scary bit, this primate was probably more self-aware than many of those elected officials.

    • by TheHerk (1521205) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:55AM (#28024725)
      Yes, but while that is pretty scary, what is more scary are the millions of people that vote for them.
      • by halivar (535827) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {reglefb}> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:07AM (#28024847) Homepage

        And scariest of all? The world still turns, and objective reality refuses to accept that proper science is vital to hold the fabric of space-time together.

        Honestly, the only reason anyone ought to care what a politician thinks about creationism is if they decide what's taught in public schools. This is almost always a state matter. Your U.S. Congressman has bunk to do with it.

        And if it really, REALLY troubles you that some congressmen are anti-science, I suggest you give equal time to folks like Dennis Kucinich; after all, is seeing UFO's somehow more scientifically acceptable that an ID-proponent?

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by TheHerk (1521205)
          I'd say so. Saying you saw one, if you didn't would be just as asinine as saying god spoke to you. This is likely the case.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by spun (1352)

            Really? It's likely that Dennis is lying about seeing a flying object he couldn't identify? Because that is all he said. Didn't say aliens, didn't say anything except that it was flying, it was an object, and he couldn't identify it. Only people looking for an excuse to dismiss Kucinich give that story any credence.

        • by DriedClexler (814907) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:49AM (#28025447)

          Honestly, the only reason anyone ought to care what a politician thinks about creationism is if they decide what's taught in public schools. This is almost always a state matter. Your U.S. Congressman has bunk to do with it.

          Ah, yes, thanks for reminding us about the theory of federalism [wikipedia.org], on which our governing system is ostensibly based.

          Now I'm going to explain to you how it works in the real world.

          In the real world, the national government has become intimately involved in decisions at the state and local level, well beyond its enumerated powers. If nothing else, federal funding of local education has enabled it to threaten states with, "Don't want to do what we tell you? Then kiss your funding goodbye."

          Yes, the federal government does have significant control over what can be taught in public schools. Why do you think the Supreme Court ever rules on cirriculum issues? Why don't federal judges respond to all such lawsuits that make it to their level by saying, "Meh, state matter, go away"?

          So please don't act like Congressmen are powerless over what's taught in public schools.

          • by halivar (535827)

            Citation, please. Name one significant school curriculum issue the US Supreme Court has ruled on.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by DriedClexler (814907)

              Here you go. [wikipedia.org] Issue: teaching of ... creationism.

              Edwards v. Aguillard

              In the early 1980s, the Louisiana legislature passed a law titled the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act". The act did not require teaching either evolution or creationism as such, but did require that when evolutionary science was taught, so-called creation science had to be taught as well. ... the State appealed to the Supreme Court. ... In 1987 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Louisiana act was unconstitutional, because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AshtangiMan (684031)
          IIRC what Kucinich did is say that he believes in UFO's. I do to, I also happen to understand that UFO != Alien intelligence flying around and snatching people up. Though apparently many are not able to make that distinction. Should Kucinich pander to the ignorance of the masses by further explaining what he meant? Probably as a congressman he should, but on the other hand I would most likely have handled it in the same way. I saw a UFO the other night, and it was not until the next day that I learned
        • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:01AM (#28025653) Journal

          Seeing a flying object that you can't identify is scientifically acceptable. That is all he said. Tim Russert asked him about it, he said that all he has seen was an object he couldn't identify.

          Dennis Kucinich is one of the only true liberals left in the Democratic party, and I would vote for him for president in a heartbeat. This UFO story gets blown all out of proportion by right wing loons in order to discredit him. Stop listening to loons.

          • http://www.exopolitics.org/Exo-Comment-60.htm [exopolitics.org]

            Obviously this isn't Kucinich himself and has validity only as testimony, but, if the person who was with him when the "encounter" (or whatever) took place says this, it hardly seems fair to blame your political foes with "blowing it all out of proportion." Is Shirly Maclaine a "right wing loon" (I know nothing about her, other than she is the godmother of Kucinich's daughter)?

            Watching the Kucinich answer (youtube), he doesn't deny the above account, and responds

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by spun (1352)

              You are quoting a story from an 'Extraterrestrial Politics' site? Seriously? Don't you think they might be a little biased?

              Shirley McClain is a left wing loon. I would take anything she says with a huge grain of salt. Here's a transcript of the question Russert asked:

              RUSSERT: Shirley MacLaine writes in her new book that you sighted a UFO over her home in Washington state, that you found the encounter extremely moving, that it was a triangular craft, silent and hovering, that you felt a connection to your heart and heard directions in your mind. Now, did you see a UFO?

              KUCINICH: Uh, I did. And the rest of the account. It was an unidentified flying object, OK? It's like, it's unidentified. I saw something. Now, to answer your question. I'm moving my, and I'm also going to move my campaign office to Roswell, New Mexico, and another one in Exeter, New Hampshire, OK? And also, you have to keep in mind that Jimmy Carter saw a UFO, and also that more people in this country have seen UFOs than I think approve of George Bush's presidency.

              I stand by my position that this is being blown out of proportion by people who don't agree with Kucinich's politics.

        • WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by wall0159 (881759) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:36AM (#28026209)

          Let's just think for a moment about which branches of science contradict creationism:
          biology
          biochemistry
          genetics
          physics
          astronomy
          astrophysics

          I'm sure there are other _genres_ of science too. Are you really saying that it doesn't matter if a leader of society believes that all the scientists working in these fields are wrong?

          Believing in creationism is like believing the earth is flat, and would have huge consequences in many many public policy areas.

          • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by ArcherB (796902) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:29PM (#28027071) Journal

            Let's just think for a moment about which branches of science contradict creationism:
            biology
            biochemistry
            genetics
            physics
            astronomy
            astrophysics

            I'm sure there are other _genres_ of science too. Are you really saying that it doesn't matter if a leader of society believes that all the scientists working in these fields are wrong?

            Believing in creationism is like believing the earth is flat, and would have huge consequences in many many public policy areas.

            I'll just take the last three, physics, astronomy, and astrophysics, and use one example to prove you wrong. Now, go read up on THIS [wikipedia.org] GUY [pbs.org] who used all three of these to support the idea that God created the universe.

            Now, don't get me wrong, I find flat eathers and young earth creationists just as annoying as you do, so please don't lump all "creationists" together. Many are brilliant scientists who present valid cases for differing levels of creationism based on actual science, much like the example I listed above.

            Religion and science are NOT mutually exclusive.

            • by halivar (535827)

              Also do not confuse "old earth" creationists, who by-and-large support evolutionary theory, big bang theory, and other matters of settled science, with "young earth" creationists and ID pseudo-scientists.

            • by wall0159 (881759)

              My post was referring to young-earth creationists.

              Having said this, to describe the big-bang theory as supporting "the idea that God created the universe" is ridiculous. While it seems possible that a "first mover" could have started the big-bang and created the universe, there is no evidence. In fact, we have no empirical evidence for god whatsoever.

              I am also confused by your links, since neither of them even contain the word "god"!

              • by ArcherB (796902)

                My post was referring to young-earth creationists.

                You simply said "creationists". You didn't specify YEC's. Yes, YEC's are a subset of Creationists, but they do not make up the whole. It would be like me railing against Democrats because of their socialists views, even though not all Democrats are socialists.

                Having said this, to describe the big-bang theory as supporting "the idea that God created the universe" is ridiculous. While it seems possible that a "first mover" could have started the big-bang and created the universe, there is no evidence. In fact, we have no empirical evidence for god whatsoever.

                I am also confused by your links, since neither of them even contain the word "god"!

                True. However, Lematre was driven by God. The Bible says that God is the creator the heavens and the earth. That means that the universe had a creation. The thinking at the time, as put forth by Einstein, was that the universe was static. A sta

          • Look, I agree with you on some levels...but if creationism is saying that God happened to push the first strands of DNA together, if God happened to tweak the mutation that gave us speech, etc, if God DROVE human development over millenia, is it really contradicted?

          • Let's just think for a moment about which branches of science contradict creationism: biology biochemistry genetics physics astronomy astrophysics

            Biochemistry and genetics are large fields within biology, and likewise astronomy and astrophysics are areas within physics. But to your list, we can add

            • geology
            • paleontology (which fits within biology and geology, I suppose)
          • by halivar (535827)

            Believing in creationism is like believing the earth is flat, and would have huge consequences in many many public policy areas.

            Like what?

            I'm sorry, but I happen to think a misunderstanding of economic theory is vastly more devastating to a country's public policy than a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory.

        • is seeing UFO's somehow more scientifically acceptable that an ID-proponent?

          Disclaimer: I can't stand Kucinich's liberal policies. He might be a great guy for all I know, but I think his politics suck. That said, yeah, I put UFOs and ID on entirely different planes. First, there's approximately zero chance that we're the only intelligent life. Second, science says you don't get to reject data just because it doesn't conveniently fit your hypothesis. I'm not saying that UFOs bearing visiting aliens exist, but we don't know of any hard reason why they couldn't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jurily (900488)

      That people can get elected without having basic modern ape like intelligence is the scary bit, this primate was probably more self-aware than many of those elected officials.

      C'mon. They're self-aware alright, and they know all too well who's paying them. And it's not the voters.

    • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:12AM (#28024907)

      Isn't it rather scary that while scientists are getting excited over this 47 million year old fossil that there are fossils in Congress who will swear on a stack of Bibles that the earth is only 6000 years old and that evolution is bunk.

      C'mon now, slashdot always has these remarks, but you know what? NBC nightly news reported this find last night - the epitome of mainstream - and there was no mention of the Bible or controversy over the validity of evolution, none at all. Just excitement over a great find that may fill in the picture of evolution a bit more. At some point, decrying all this supposed scientific opposition which is really just a small fringe, becomes self-pity, or a persecution complex.

    • by Deadstick (535032)
      That people can get elected without having basic modern ape like intelligence

      Principles, not intelligence. Remember the definition of "demagogue": A man who promotes principles he knows to be false to people he knows to be fools.

      rj

    • by kandela (835710)
      But if they don't believe in God, then what does swearing on a stack of Bibles prove?
    • They seem to think that the preservation provides good evidence for the Noachic flood - http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2009/05/19/ida-missing-link

      Scientists really do need to discover a crocoduck, but I doubt that would even cause these idiots to shut up. They have so much foot in mouth they resemble a hoop.

    • Isn't it rather scary that while scientists are getting excited over this 47 million year old fossil that there are fossils in Congress who will swear on a stack of Bibles that the earth is only 6000 years old and that evolution is bunk.

      Really? Which representative in congress believes the Earth is 6000 years old?

  • Media event (Score:5, Insightful)

    by olclops (591840) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:57AM (#28024751)

    This is more of a media event than a true major discovery. All orchestrated by the History Channel.

    See this article. [discovermagazine.com]

    • by mbrod (19122)
      Naming it Darwinius should be a clue as to how they are trying to sensationalize this.

      Paleontologists really need to work on their language usage. An Engineer, Computer Scientist or Lawyer when describing these findings would say, "Attribute X on the skeleton shows a greater likelihood of this specimen being part of the following descendant groups, a, b, c. Further studies are warranted on other specimens for confirmation."

      Instead you get "Woo hoo, call it Darwinius, this is my great grandfather to th
  • Why is this 'news', it is an old report IF you look at archeology reports.
    Why is everyone so behind the times?

  • by Poobar (1558627) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:10AM (#28024875)
    Interesting New Scientist blog: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/05/is-ida-a-pop-star-fossil-or-po.html [newscientist.com] They seem to make two main points- firstly that the whole thing is degenerating into hype, but more interestingly that there wasn't a big debate here anyway. Yes, it's a missing link, but it's one that all rational people knew must have existed somewhere. It hasn't ignited debate between creationists and evolutionists, for the reason that they don't really debate each other anymore- at least not in scientific circles.
  • Question: Are long tails in primates based on an expressed gene? I mean, has there ever been a documented case of a human being with a long tail?

    Silly yes, but I've always wanted to know. Also curious if it would help with balance (improved martial art skills)

    • I mean, has there ever been a documented case of a human being with a long tail?

      John Holmes.

  • No way (Score:5, Funny)

    by Deadstick (535032) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:30AM (#28025157)
    but for now it looks like a cash cow for the History Channel

    Not a chance. They'd have to reduce the Hitler coverage to do that.

    rj

  • by Is0m0rph (819726) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:33AM (#28025187)
    I hardly believe anything Congress or the House says anymore. Calling them ancient fossils isn't going to help matters either.
  • http://www.google.com/ [google.com] - check out today's logo.

  • by yourassOA (1546173) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:44AM (#28025365)
    But its foot bone look similar to a humans so it got to be a missing link. Seems like a bit of a stretch to me.
  • by macsuibhne (307779) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:52AM (#28025493)

    She was found in 1983 by an anonymous collector. She was sold to the University of Oslo two years ago.

    Tony.

  • by Crock23A (1124275)
    The only question is whether or not it indeed had a Human father and a Cylon mother.
  • by hackus (159037) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:43AM (#28026311) Homepage

    Are you positively ABSOLUTELY sure it is 47 Million years OLD?

    Really?

    http://www.astroengine.com/?p=1382 [astroengine.com]

    -Hack

  • It looks like something ate a small monkey and got projectile diarrhea on their website. Someone should hack in and add some flies to it.

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