Geneticist says man did not evolve from the ape the way you think

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Geneticist Dr. Adam Rutherford says the linear depiction of ape to man is wrong and needs to be revised. It’s not as simple as we think.

We have learned a “convenient shorthand” Dr. Rutherford says and it’s wrong. The discovery of a new skull suggests the linear evolution of man is wrong.

The linear image we have been taught appeared in children’s books in the 1960s.

The Story

A week ago, a huge prehistoric skull that had lain hidden in a Chinese well for 85 years resurfaced. Inconveniently, it doesn’t easily fit into the famous image, which shows us getting bigger and bigger brains as we evolve.

The head was first discovered in 1933 by workers building a bridge over the Songhua River in Harbin, northern China. The laborers wrapped it in cloth and hid it in an old well to stop it from falling into the hands of Japanese soldiers occupying the province.

“So it turns out that the more we look, the messier – and more interesting – our story becomes. It’s still the greatest story ever told, but the evolution of humankind is turning out to be less like a progression or a tree and more like a huge, sprawling, gloriously tangled bush,” said Dr. Rutherford.

From the scientist’s account at The Daily Mail on how the evolution is not as Darwin recounted:

First, it implies there is a purposeful direction to evolution, towards two legs, large brains, and tools.

Evolution doesn’t work like that. Hundreds of creatures use tools, from crows and otters to octopuses – so that’s not so special.

Walking on two legs is important for us, but it’s not necessarily more advanced than any other creature’s form of locomotion.

Evolution has no foresight and doesn’t point in any particular direction. Natural selection favors gradual change, which makes organisms successful in their changing environment.

The second flaw is the implication of a linear progression.

We keep discovering more remains of hominids who have been dead for thousands of years. By extracting and analyzing their DNA, we’ve come to realize that we don’t actually know the direct pathway from early humans to us. We’ve got dotted lines and working theories, but for the most part, we’re no longer sure who our ancestors were.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve gone backwards in our understanding. It’s just that the picture is far more complicated.

For example, we have discovered perhaps a dozen different species of humans who have lived in the past few million years. We are Homo (for human) sapiens. But there have also been Homo habilis, literally ‘handy man’ because they used tools; and Homo erectus, who stood upright and ranged from Africa to Indonesia between about two million years ago until 100,000 years ago when they became extinct.

In 2005, we discovered Homo floresiensis, who was short – about 5ft tall – and with large feet, so they were nicknamed ‘Hobbits’. We think they were descended from Homo erectus and became small as a result of being isolated on Flores and a few other neighboring islands in Indonesia. The best known of the other humans is Homo neanderthalensis or Neanderthals. They were the first new type of human discovered in the early 19th Century. They lived mostly in Europe and Central Asia, and the last died out about 40,000 years ago, perhaps on what is now Gibraltar.

Neanderthals were generally chunkier than us, with heavier brows, wider noses, and big barrel chests. We’re not sure of their skin color, but it was probably quite a range, and there’s even been a suggestion that some had ginger hair (though I don’t believe it).

Their reputation as thuggish cavemen comes from their powerful physiques. Recent research has shown, however, that they were cultured and sophisticated tool-makers who made art, carved patterns on to antlers, and buried their dead with complex rituals.

Neanderthals were our ancestors too.

The conclusion:

Today, we are the last existent human species.

The oldest Homo sapiens remains, discovered in Morocco, are 315,000 years old, but with a haircut and nice clothes, I reckon they would not look out of place on the high street today.

Similar remains have been found in places such as Ethiopia and the Rift Valley in eastern Africa.

It now looks as if there never was any linear progression.

Instead, Homo sapiens evolved from a mix of different early human beings from the African continent who slowly migrated all over the world about 100,000 years ago. Some moved towards Europe and met the Neanderthals. Others went east and met the Denisovans.

Fascinating information.


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