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jueves, 4 de junio de 2009

“Missing Link” changing Story of Human Evolution

It didn’t have a TV special, book deal or media-friendly pimping from the mayor of New York City, but a 12 million-year-old skull recently unearthed in Spain just might end up actually deserving the label of “missing link.”

The skull possesses a combination of primitive features previously unseen in a primate, along with a flat, anatomically modern face — the earliest such face in the fossil record. These characteristics qualified it as the founding member of a new genus and species, Anoiapithecus brevirostris.

The findings, described Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, follow in the wake of Ida, a fossil lemur whose made-for-TV hype far outpaced its scientific value. But A. brevirostris, despite its lack of fanfare, may be far more significant.

According to the Catalan Institute of Paleontology researchers who found the skull, A. brevirostris represents the last common ancestor of humans and the other great apes.

Only more fossils and years of study will reveal if that bold statement is true. If so, then our evolutionary history is rooted in a primate lineage that arose in Africa, wandered into Eurasia, and then went back to Africa before returning to Eurasia in modern human form.

The “Out of Africa” theory, which postulates a tidy, totally African origin for modern humans and is a near-consensus position among scientists, would go out the window.

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