Evolution, missing links and whatnot.

21. March 2010

This has been lying around as draft for quite a while, because I wanted to do further research on the subject. Not having had time to do that, I now decided to publish it anyways, so if you find a mistake, feel free to comment.

1994. An american research team finds bones in Ethopia, only 75km from the location of the famous “Lucy“. They soon discover that they are about 4.4 million years old and belong to a yet unknown species, which they then had the honor of naming Ardipithecus ramidus. What followed were years of boring research and restauration.

15 years later. The research is published in the magazine Science

A day later. Everybody goes crazy about the “missing link” having been found. And every single creationist out there has comment on the fact that man clearly is not related to such low creatures as monkeys, and that all this Darwinism is so totally wrong, and that this finding proves nothing.

OMG. Why can’t they shut up? Once? Pwleeze?

Okay, calm down. Is this the “missing link” everybody has been looking for?

Sorry, but no. Simply because the missing link does not exist, there are numerous. But lets see what science has already found out so far:

The oldest fossils of homo sapiens (that is the sort of funny species you and I are part of) are about 200.000 years old and were found in Africa, also known as the archaic homo sapiens. The oldest fossils outside of Afrika are about 100.000 years old, which leads to the conclusion that around that time we left Africa and started conquering the rest of the world. DNA studies have proven that every human on this planet is linked to the same “genetic Eve” from Africa. So, no missing link for about 200.000 years.

At least two other species of the homo family lived during that period: homo neanderthalensis and homo floresiensis. Both are extinct, but neither species is our “ancestor” – they are our “siblings”. For a long time, scientists had thought that homo neanderthalensis was our ancestor, simply because at that point in time the known neanderthalensis fossils were older than those of homo sapiens. They were looking for fossils that were half-neanderthalensis-half-sapiens to prove that one evolved from the other. This was a “missing link” people tried to find for decades. Today, we know that no such fossil exists, because there is no direct link.

A fourth species, homo erectus is the common ancestor of all three.

How exactly the three younger species came about is where missing links set in again. Homo erectus appeared around 1.500.000 years ago. Sometime between 500.000 years ago and about 200.000 years ago, the three younger species evolved.

Unfortunately, the number fossils in that time period are very few, there are about 10. If they were nicely distributed in age and all from the same location there would be a gap of 30.000 years between each and every one of them. You might have guessed it: they are not. The fossils were found in different places and precisely dating them is a problem in itself. What adds to the problem is evolution having “jumps” every now and then, when it only takes very few generations to create a different species, and we are hoping to find just that: A half homo erectus, half homo sapiens fossil. Or half-erectus-half-neanderthalensis, for that matter. There are about three or four that might fit in that line, but scientific evidence is not good enough to actually put them into the right position in the evolutionary tree.

As you can imagine, the further one goes up that tree, the rarer the puzzle pieces get. Especially when it comes to fossils older than 3 million years, every single finding is important. “Lucy” is 3.2 million years old. Scientists think the split between apes and hominids must have happened around 7 million years ago. The number of fossiles that are between 4 and 7 million years old is pretty much: zero. That is a huge gap of 3 million years. Oh, you guessed it… the missing link!

Since we have finally found out what is commonly called the missing link… will a single fossil bridge the gap? Surely, no. If we cannot close a gap of 300.000 years with 10 findings, how could a single one close 3 million years? But every single discovery will make the picture a bit more complete, even if it turns out to be a side-line, like the neanderthalensis.

Okay. Now back to the story. We now know what we are looking for: All kinds of humanoid or apelike fossiles in the time span of 4 to 7 million years old.

What did they find? Something that is 4.4 million year old. Does it make a difference? yes. Do they have the missing link? no.

Thanks.

You can now claim the T-Shirt, and get on with your life.

Oh, since youre still around: If you still believe, Adam was created by God 5.000 years ago, please note that the Babylonians invented friggin’ glue a thousand years before that. And if you still think evolution is a “theory”, please note: so is gravity.

Further reading: National Geographic Little Green Footballs