Posts Tagged ‘Palaeontology’

German Fossil Ape Discoveries Support Initial Bipedalism

November 8, 2019

There was a very interesting piece in yesterday’s I newspaper about the discovery of the remains of an ancient ape that lived 12 million years ago in Bavaria. According to the palaeontologists and zoologists examining the creature, its remains suggest that it could walk as well as climb trees. This seems to support the theory of initial bipedalism. This states that walking on two legs is not a trait humans acquired, but one what that apes lost.

The article by Frank Jordans, ‘Ancient walking ape takes stand against evolutionary theory’ runs

The remains of an ancient ape found in a Bavarian clay pit suggest that our ancestors began standing upright millions of years earlier than previously thought, scientists have said.

An international team of researchers said that the fossilised partial skeleton of a male ape tyhat lived almost 12 million years ago, in what is now southern Germany, bore a striking resemblance to modern human bones.

In a paper published by the journal Nature, they concluded that the previously unknown species, named Danuvius guggenmosi, could walk on two legs but also climb like an ape.

The findings “raise fundamental questions about our previous understanding of the evolution of the great apes and humans”, said Madelaine Boehme of the University of Tubingen, Germany, who led the research.

Previous fossil records of apes with an upright gait dated only as far back as six million years ago.

Ms Boehme, along with researchers from Bulgaria, Germany, Canada and the US, examined more than 15,000 bones found west of Munich.

They were able to piece together primate fossils belonging to four individuals that lived 11.62 million years ago.

The most complete, an adult male looked similar to modern-day bonobo chimpanzees.

They reconstructed how Danuvius would have moved, concluding that, while it would have been able to hang from branches by its arms, it could also straighten its legs to walk upright.

“This changes our view of early human evolution which is that it all happened in Africa,” Ms Boehme told AP News.

Fred Spoor, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, said that it could challenge many existing ideas about evolution.

“This is fantastic material,” said Mr Spoor, who was not involved in the study, “there undoubtedly will be a lot for people to analyse.”

Some of the fossil apes they’ve previously discovered seem to have different proportions to modern apes. Ramapithecus had arms that were proportionally more like those of humans, rather than the long arms of apes. This suggests to me that the animal was more bipedal than modern apes, which commonly walk on fours.

I first encountered the theory of initial bipedalism through articles written by the French zoologist, Dr. Francois Sarre, in the ’90s cryptozoological magazine, Animals and Men. Cryptozoology is the study of mystery animals. It covers everything from creatures that may plausibly exist, to beasts that are probably mythical like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Animals and Men was a strange mixture of the paranormal and popular articles about respectable zoological discoveries, like the fossils of various types of extinct whale. It was very much fringe literature, which is possibly the reason why Sarres’ articles were published in it. He may not have been able to publish them elsewhere. Now this discovery suggests he was right. Which also shows you shouldn’t discount everything in the paranormal press.

The Flightless Bird So Good It Evolved Twice

May 12, 2019

Another fascinating piece of news in yesterday’s, for 11th May 2019, was about the discovery by evolutionary scientists that a type of flightless bird had evolved twice on the same Indian Ocean atoll. It reappeared the second time thousands of years after it had first come extinct, in a process biologists call ‘iterative evolution’. The article, ‘Evolution strikes twice for flightless bird on isolated atoll’, by Ben Mitchell, reads

A flightless bird that became extinct when its home island became flooded by the sea “came back to life” when a similar species evolved in the same location, scientists have discovered.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Natural History Museum found that a species of rail colonised an isolated atoll called Aldabra in the Indian Ocean on two occasions separated by tens of thousands of years. On both occasions, the white-throated rail evolved independently to become flightless. The last surviving colony of the flightless rails is still found on the island.

A University of Portsmouth spokesman said: “This is the first time that iterative evolution – the repeated evolution of similar or parallel structures from the same ancestor but at different times – has been seen in rails. 

The co-author of the study in the Zoological Journal of Lennean Society, Professor David Martill of the University of Portsmouth, said: “We know of no other example that demonstrates this phenomenon so evidently.”

How fascinating! It sounds similar to the phenomenon of parallel evolution, in which unrelatedly creatures develop similar features through occupying similar ecological niches. One example is the way penguins have evolved features similar to other marine creatures like whales and fish, with their wings becoming flippers. Another example is the thylacine, the marsupial wolf, otherwise known as the Tasmanian tiger. This creature is, unfortunately, now extinct, as it was hunted down as a pest by the Australian farmers. Although it was a marsupial, and had evolved independently in Australia over millions of years, it was remarkably like a European wolf. There was speculation at one time that the different human races were also the result of parallel evolution around the world, each evolving separately from common hominid ancestors. This has since been rejected, not least because it’s considered to be more than a little racist, somehow suggesting that the different varieties of modern humanity are biologically different species.

The palaeontologist Simon Conway-Morris has been so impressed by parallel evolution, that he considers that humans would have evolved anyway, even if the dinosaurs had not been wiped out by the asteroid impact at the end of the Cretacious Period 64 million years ago. He also believes that this means that other, extraterrestrial alien races, would also be humanoid. The final chapter of one of his books describes an alien spacecraft landing in southern England. When the aliens leave their ship to make contact with us, they are a humans. So much so that when asked if they want food, not only do they say yes, but they also ask for water for their dog.

Conway-Morris’ views are extreme, and not shared by other biologists. And some researchers into extraterrestrial life, like Seth Shostak, believe that aliens would be radically different from us.

Even so, this piece of science news is fascinating, and makes you wonder about the other possibilities of similar species evolving parallel or iteratively.