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Saturday, April 9, 2016

New ape fossil

The National Geographic and the news services are touting a new ape fossil found in Ethiopia as “forcing a rethink on human evolution”. As usual, the headlines are hyperbolic. This ape is fragmentary, and so far only teeth and a jaw bone have been found, and the teeth are similar to gorilla teeth. Gorillas are thought on molecular grounds to have split off from the chimp-human clade about 7 million years ago, but this specimen is 10 million years old. What gives?
I can think of a couple of options. One is that, as I have reported previously, teeth are not great diagnostic material for phylogeny. They are very adaptable, and if a species finds itself in a similar environment with a similar diet, the teeth will tend to evolve rapidly to a particular morphology similar to that of relatives who later evolve in the same situation...

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