Monday, November 05, 2007

New finds ignite controversy over ape and human evolution

Fifty years ago, British anatomist Wilfrid Le Gros Clark explained in a lecture why evolutionary scientists argue so vehemently about how ancient apelike and humanlike creatures eventually gave way to modern humans. "Every fossil relic which appears to throw light on connecting links in man's ancestry always has, and always will, arouse controversy," he stated, "and it is right that this should be so, for it is very true that the sparks of controversy often illuminate the way to truth."

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Teeth sometimes tell contested evolutionary tales. That adage applies to a new analysis of hominid teeth conducted by researchers who have found 400,000-year-old skeletons of Neandertal ancestors in Spain and the 1.77-million-year-old remains of an early Homo species in central Asia (SN: 9/22/07, p. 179). The scientists suspect that, perhaps 2 million to 3 million years ago, Asian hominids began to move west, exerting a huge impact on the evolution of Neandertals and other Homo species in western Asia and Europe.

That suggestion contrasts with the traditional view that hominids left Africa around 1.8 million years ago and evolved into species such as Neandertals after reaching Europe and other locales. Asian hominids of the time evolved separately and eventually died out, according to this perspective.

A team led by Maria MartinĂ³n-Torres of the National Center of Human Evolution Studies in Burgos, Spain, has examined 51 anatomical traits on more than 5,000 hominid teeth. Fossils came from African australopithecines and from African, Asian, and European Homo species, including H. sapiens.

See the above for the full article on the Science News Online website