It’s time, I think, for a brief round up of some palaeontology items that have come to my attention recently.
First up is the unveiling of ‘Ida’, a new fossil primate, Darwinius masillae, from the Grube Messel in Germany (Franzen et al 2009). There’s no doubt that this is a magnificently preserved specimen and that it sheds new light on the morphology and mode of life of Eocene primates. However, the way in which this specimen was announced, and the sensationalistic claims being made about it, have been the subject of critical comment by creationists and evolutionists alike. Is this really the way that science should be done?
Earlier this month there were two more papers about Homo floresiensis (‘the hobbit’) in Nature. One described the species’ foot, suggesting that it is a mosaic of primitive and derived features (Jungers et al 2009). The other sought to explain how the species developed such a small brain if it represents a dwarfed version of early Homo erectus or Homo habilis (Weston and Lister 2009). Like the author of this paper (Wise 2005), I tend towards the opinion that specimen LB1 represents a distinct post-Babel human morphology rather than an individual suffering from a form of microencephaly. But was its ancestor H. erectus or some other form whose arrival in southeast Asia is yet undocumented by fossils?
Finally, if there’s any lingering doubt in your mind that Puijila darwini is indeed a walking pinniped and not a fossil otter (as some creationists have suggested), take the time to read Todd Wood’s recent
howl of frustration post on the subject: ‘Puijila is not an otter’.
Franzen J. L., Gingerich P. D., Habersetzer J., Hurum J. H., von Koenigswald W. and Smith B. H. 2009. Complete primate skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: morphology and paleobiology. PLoS ONE 4(5):e5723. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005723.
Jungers W. L., Harcourt-Smith W. E. H., Wunderlich R. E., Tocheri M. W., Larson S. G., Sutikna T., Due R. A. and Morwood M. J. 2009. The foot of Homo floresiensis. Nature 459:81-84.
Weston E. M. and Lister A. M. 2009. Insular dwarfism in hippos and a model for brain size reduction in Homo floresiensis. Nature 459:85-88.
Wise K. P. 2005. The Flores skeleton and human baraminology. Occasional Papers of the BSG 6:1-13.