Archive for Science

The First Americans and the Extinction of the Mammoths (and other Megafauna)

North American Megafauna

The end of the Pleistocene marks the end of the last ice age and is accompanied by the extinction of several large fauna. Perhaps the most noticeable of these happened in North America. This also marks the migration of man from Eastern Asia into North America. The existence of kill sites, as well as the contemporaneousness of man’s arrival into the Americas and the disappearance of large fauna, has led some researchers to conclude that these Paleoindians hunted large megafauna to extinction, in what’s known as the Overkill or Blitzkrieg hypothesis. Read more

Transitional Fossils: Archaeopteryx, Dinosaur-Avian Evolution and Creationism

Archaeopteryx - Dinosaur Bird evolution

Transitional Fossils: Archaeopteryx, Dinosaur-Bird Evolution and Creationism

Charles Darwin predicted that the fossil record would reveal transitional fossils, showing intermediate features between the different types if animals. If everything evolved from ‘lower’ orders, then we should indeed find fossils that show traits of both modern and ancestral (ie if birds evolved from reptiles, we should find birds with reptilian features, and/or reptiles with avian features) forms. Worth noting of course, is that such a finding would seriously contradict the Biblical notion of the contemporaneously “created kinds.” Because of this, existence of transitional fossils has become probably the biggest target of anti-evolution propaganda. Read more

Is Evolution a Fact?

evolution is a fact

Claim: Evolution is a lie.  It’s just a secular religion.
Fact: Evolution is simply what several separate and unrelated lines of evidence converge upon.  The fossil record, DNA similarities, geographic patterns, embryonic similarities, homologous structures, vestigial structures, phylogenetic similarities, various methods of dating (carbon, tree ring, radiometric, coral,etc) and other factors all independently point to evolution.  Anti-evolution arguments are a collection of logical fallacies, most often straw man arguments that don’t take the actual available evidence into account.

Since Origin of Species was published, the theory of evolution has been the source of much controversy, especially in religious circles.  To this day, a cottage industry that purports to “debunk” evolution exists in the form of books, lectures, videos, and even creation museums.  Often referred to as “creationism” or “creation science,” this industry doesn’t provide actual science but rather feeds its readers, listeners and viewers, a straw man version of evolution.

Creationism and non-acceptance of Evolution

evolution acceptance US
While often laughed off as the realm of hucksters and religious zealots, this industry contains many persuasive writers/debaters and a large portion of the United States continues to deny evolution.  Creationist arguments are often clever and in line with folk reasoning (which rarely aligns with complicated science).  In many cases, understanding the fallacy behind a creationist claim requires a fairly thorough understanding of a subject.  This is why evolution successfully preys on the less scientifically literate (there exists an entire cottage industry of creationist/apologist books, videos and websites that purports to keep its readers/viewers educated on science).  In fact, evolution far less accepted in the United States than in other advanced western countries. While this is not a specifically politically-based phenomenon it is far stronger among Republicans, where non-acceptance appears to be growing.  While this might seem harmless and “silly at best” to many, it does have some serious ramifications.  According to Evolution Outreach:

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Human Evolution Timeline

Human Evolution Timeline | Timeline of Human Evolution

SPECIES TIME PERIOD
Ardipithecus ramidus 5 to 4 million years ago
Australopithecus anamensis 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago
Australopithecus afarensis 4 to 2.7 million years ago
Australopithecus africanus (B & C) 3 to 2 million years ago
Australopithecus robustus 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago
Homo habilis (D & E) 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago
Homo erectus (G) 2.0 to 0.4 million years ago
Homo sapiens archaic 400 to 200 thousand years ago
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (J-L) 200 to 30 thousand years ago
Homo sapiens sapiens (N) 200 thousand years ago to present

The chronology of existence of the various hominids shown in the table above are based on dated fossil remains. Each species may have existed earlier and/or later than shown, but the fossil record is always growing. There is also dispute concerning many overlapping species, for example, the overlap between Homo habilis and Homo erectus. It could well be that the two are continuing examples of the same species. The same dispute exists with Homo erectusHomo sapiens archaic and homo sapiens sapiens. If all species have been discovered and the lineage of man lies within them, the most probable lineage would include all but the robust Australopithecines and the Neandertal.

The following chronology is abbreviated:

The earliest fossil hominid, Ardipithecus ramidus, is a recent discovery. It is dated at 4.4 million years ago. The remains are incomplete but enough is available to suggest it was bipedal and about 4 feet tall. Other fossils were found with the ramidus fossil which would suggest that ramidus was a forest dweller. A new skeleton was recently discovered which is about 45% complete. It is now being studied.

A new species, Australopithecus anamensis, was named in 1995. It was found in Allia Bay in Kenya. Anamensis lived between 4.2 and 3.9 million years ago. Its body showed advanced bipedal features, but the skull closely resembled the ancient apes.

Australopithecus afarensis lived between 3.9 and 3.0 million years ago. It retained the apelike face with a sloping forehead, a distinct ridge over the eyes, flat nose and a chinless lower jaw. It had a brain capacity of about 450 cc. It was between 3’6″ and 5′ tall. It was fully bipedal and the thickness of its bones showed that it was quite strong. Its build (ratio of weight to height) was about the same as the modern human but its head and face were proportionately much larger. This larger head with powerful jaws is a feature of all species prior to Homo sapiens sapiens.

Australopithecus africanus was quite similar to afarensis and lived between three and two million years ago. It was also bipedal, but was slightly larger in body size. Its brain size was also slightly larger, ranging up to 500 cc. The brain was not advanced enough for speech. The molars were a little larger than in afarensis and much larger than modern human. This hominid was a herbivore and ate tough, hard to chew, plants. The shape of the jaw was now like the human.

Australopithecus aethiopicus lived between 2.6 and 2.3 million years ago. This species is probably an ancestor of the robustus and boisei. This hominid ate a rough and hard to chew diet. He had huge molars and jaws and a large sagittal crest. A sagittal crest is a bony ridge on the skull extending from the forehead to the back of the head. Massive chewing muscles were anchored to this crest. See the opening picture of an early Homo habilis for an example. Brain sizes were still about 500cc, with no indication of speech functions.

Australopithecus robustus lived between two and 1.5 million years ago. It had a body similar to that of africanus, but a larger and more massive skull and teeth. Its huge face was flat and with no forehead. It had large brow ridges and a sagittal crest. Brain size was up to 525cc with no indication of speech capability.

Australopithecus boisei lived between 2.1 and 1.1 million years ago. It was quite similar to robustus, but with an even more massive face. It had huge molars, the larger measuring 0.9 inches across. The brain size was about the same as robustus. Some authorities believe that robustus and boisei are variants of the same species.

Homo habilis was called the handy man because tools were found with his fossil remains. This species existed between 2.4 and 1.5 million years ago. The brain size in earlier fossil specimens was about 500cc but rose to 800cc toward the end of the species life period. The species brain shape shows evidence that some speech had developed. Habilis was about 5′ tall and weighed about 100 pounds. Some scientists believe that habilis is not a separate species and should be carried either as a later Australopithecine or an early Homo erectus. It is possible that early examples are in one species group and later examples in the other.

Homo erectus lived between 1.8 million and 300,000 years ago. It was a successful species for a million and a half years. Early examples had a 900cc brain size on the average. The brain grew steadily during its reign. Toward the end its brain was almost the same size as modern man, at about 1200cc. The species definitely had speech. Erectus developed tools, weapons and fire and learned to cook his food. He traveled out of Africa into China and Southeast Asia and developed clothing for northern climates. He turned to hunting for his food. Only his head and face differed from modern man. Like habilis, the face had massive jaws with huge molars, no chin, thick brow ridges, and a long low skull. Though proportioned the same, he was sturdier in build and much stronger than the modern human.

Homo sapiens (archaic) provides the bridge between erectus and Homo sapiens sapiensduring the period 200,000 to 500,000 years ago. Many skulls have been found with features intermediate between the two. Brain averaged about 1200cc and speech was indicated. Skulls are more rounded and with smaller features. Molars and brow ridges are smaller. The skeleton shows a stronger build than modern human but was well proportioned.

Homo sapiens neandertalensis lived in Europe and the Mideast between 150,000 and 35,000 years ago. Neandertals coexisted with H.sapiens (archaic) and early H.sapiens sapiens. It is not known whether he was of the same species and disappeared into theH.sapiens sapiens gene pool or he may have been crowded out of existence (killed off) by the H.sapien sapien. Recent DNA studies have indicated that the neandertal was an entirely different species and did not merge into the H. sapiens sapiens gene pool. Brain sizes averaged larger than modern man at about 1450cc but the head was shaped differently, being longer and lower than modern man. His nose was large and was different from modern man in structure. He was a massive man at about 5’6″ tall with an extremely heavy skeleton that showed attachments for massive muscles. He was far stronger than modern man. His jaw was massive and he had a receding forehead, like erectus.

Homo sapiens sapiens first appeared about 120,000 years ago. Modern humans have an average brain size of about 1350 cc.