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Dry Bones

By Lavender December 4, 2008

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I recently read that scientists have discovered evidence of a human-like creature about four million years old, prompting furious debate about how to classify the new guy, and what place he occupies in our family tree. (On a political note, this find knocks John McCain into second place on the list of oldest known human-like creatures.)

Now, you may already know this story, but I’m reading about it for the first time in my doctor’s waiting room from an issue of Nature Magazine published in 1995. This is the one with the cover of the world’s slowest mammal chasing a cheetah, and the headline “The Sloth: Stupid or What?”

Anyway, the article said the discovery of a new prehuman species sends scientists—and I am paraphrasing here—excitedly lurching backward off their lab stools.

The scientists describe a primitive creature that walked upright, and very seldom skipped or hopped. They named it “Australopithecus anamenis,” because, they noted, “The Girl From Utah” had already been used as the name of an English musical.

The find, made in East Africa, consists of a few teeth, parts of an upper arm bone, and
part of a shinbone. A noted paleoanthropologist I contacted commented: “The shinbone’s connected to the…thigh bone, and the thigh bone’s connected to the…hip bone, and the hip bone’s connected to the…”

When he added something about hearing the word of the Lord, I realized the man was drunk, and just toying with me, so I hung up the telephone.

The discovery, according to the article, is the earliest direct evidence of bipedalism—“the ability to ride a bike with either foot.” Oops, my mistake. It’s “upright walking.”

“These fossils place the emergence of bipedalism farther back in time by a half-million years,” Alan Walker of Penn State explained. He said upright walking is a key trait that many scientists believe separated us from the apes. That and clog dancing.

“This gets close to the hypothesized time of the splitting of the ape and human lineages, and fills in more of the gap in our knowledge of human evolution,” Walker related. Still a mystery, however, is just why the heck any of us wore those elephant bell-bottoms.

The research team was led, according to the story, by Maeve Leakey: “She and her husband, Richard, scion of the famous fossil-hunting Leakey clan….”

That sentence continued, but “famous fossil-hunting Leaky clan” was as far as I got before spraying a mouthful of coffee on my fellow patients, and stumbling to the floor for a powerful 16-minute laughing fit.

This later discovery comes a year after—to use a complex scientific expression—“another real whopper.” In that one, scientists unearthed fossils of a creature estimated to be 4.4 million years old. Named “A. ramidus”—which is also a men’s cologne, I believe—this being was “very apelike, with an upright posture, a tiny brain, and chimpanzee-like teeth.”

That description sounded awfully familiar, and after some research I now wish I hadn’t done, I learned those were the exact words my classmates wrote about me in my high school yearbook.

Those kidders!

That find is important, because the need to stand up and watch for predators is seen as a crucial moment in man’s evolution. Today, of course, man’s ability to stand is not quite as important, as we can switch the TV to Kung Fu Hustle on Spike without rising from the sofa.

Not that this creature was necessarily a male. Some scientists believe it was a female, an assumption based upon items found near the body: attractive footwear, along with a matching pouch-like object.

Other experts believe it was a male. The configuration of the bones, those researchers claim, indicate that the creature was attempting to fix something when he died.

In his hand was a four-million-year-old roll of duct tape.

Consider the source here, but isn’t it amazing what you can learn while waiting for a flu shot?

Bye for now.
Kiss, kiss.

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