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Do Neurologists Understand Brain Evolution?

Jane Bradbury wrote a feature piece for PLOS Biology recently,1 entitled, “Molecular Insights into Human Brain Evolution.”  Help us find the insights.  First, she marvels on how “humans sit on top of the pile when it comes to relative brain size.”  Then she marvels at how quickly the human brain apparently evolved compared to apes.  […]

More Convergent Evolution Claimed for Dino-Era Mammal

A chipmunk-size mammal with Popeye-like forearms and beaver-like teeth resembling an armadillo?  That’s how the discoverers are describing the fossil they named Fruitafossor, a small mammal found near Fruita, Colorado and reported in Science.1  They think it dug burrows and ate termites.  Of special interest were the open-root teeth like those of the beaver.  Lead […]

Soft Tissue from Dinosaurs Found: Intact Cells and Blood Vessels

The news media are abuzz with exciting reports about the discovery of soft tissues recovered from a Tyrannosaurus rex bone; see CNN, National Geographic, BBC News, MSNBC and News@Nature for examples.  The soft tissue, analyzed from a thighbone unearthed in Montana, was reported by a North Carolina team led by Mary Higby Schweizer and was […]

How to Get Something from Nothing: Genetic Code, Syntax Explained?

Two articles in recent science literature attempt to show that complex entities, like the genetic code and the syntax of human language, are no big deal.  They can emerge from precursors by chance.     In PNAS recently,1 veteran researcher Harold J. Morowitz (George Mason U) and two colleagues proposed a new theory for the […]

Horse Evolution Is Back on the Charts

The old horse-evolution charts from the 1880s have been revised substantially since 1920 when paleontologists began to realize the story was not so simple.  (Thomas Huxley had used the series of O. C. Marsh as a focal point of his 1876 lecture tour in the United States.)  These charts portrayed small horses with three toes […]

Are Stone Age Hunter-Gatherers Evolving or Devolving?

Anthropologists typically view stone age tribes as stuck in an eddy from primitive beginnings, never advancing into civilization.  Yet some tribes of hunter-gatherers in Thailand and Laos appear to have been farmers in their past, reports Science Now with apparent surprise: Traditionally, anthropologists thought that modern hunter-gatherer tribes like the Mlabri descended through the ages […]

Oldest Fossils Aren’t

A new analysis of the world’s oldest claimed fossil rock, a banded deposit off the coast of Greenland said to be 3.8 billion years old, probably contains no signature of life, reports Stephen Moorbath (Oxford) in Nature.1  He has visited the Akilia site twice where rocks were purported to contain graphite of biological origin.  He […]

Indonesian Hobbit No Numbskull

Whoever Homo florensiensis was (see 10/27/2004 entry), it was no dumb half-ape.  This miniature human packed a lot of brains into a small skull, says Michael Balter in Science1 (see also EurekAlert, National Geographic and BBC News).  A cast of the brain made from the skull shows complexity: convolutions in the frontal lobe suggest an […]

Dating Disaster: Is Neanderthal the New Piltdown?

We all know it by heart: Neanderthal Man was a big-boned, hairy cave-dweller that got pushed out of northern Europe 40,000 years ago by the smarter modern humans.  Could this all be wrong?  Did some bones actually belong to real people living in recorded history?     The man who dated some of these bones, […]

South American Dinosaur Find Modifies Theories

A deinonychus-like dinosaur has been found in Argentina.  Representatives of this group, including velociraptor, had previously only been known in the northern hemisphere and Asia.  Since South America was supposedly on another land mass at the time, “The new discovery demonstrates that Cretaceous theropod faunas from the southern continents shared greater similarity with those of […]

Is Darwinism a Free Lunch Scam?

Neurobiologist William H. Calvin commented at the AAAS meeting this week about the claim that modern humans lived much earlier than thought (see 02/16/2005 entry).  To him, it means that we need to rethink our assumptions that bigger brains are smarter, according to a report on EurekAlert.  If “Homo sapiens was walking around Africa 200,000 […]

Jurassic Park Revision #76: Bonehead Dinosaurs Not Head-Butters

Pachycephalosaurs, or bone-heads, were dome-headed dinosaurs with skulls nine inches thick.  Interpretation: they rammed each other like rams, or head-butted jeeps filled with hapless human tourists in the movies.  Wrong, reports National Geographic in the March 2005 issue: research by Jack Horner and Mark Goodwin has shown that the thick skulls, surprisingly, could not have […]

Age of Modern Humans Revised, “Depending on Whom You Believe”

The official age of the oldest anatomically modern humans is now 195,000 years, some 65,000 years older than previously thought.  This announcement was made in Nature1 by Ian McDougall, Francis H. Brown and John F. Fleagle, based on revised radiometric dates calculated from sediments surrounding two human skeletons in Ethiopia.  These specimens, named Omo I […]

Fossil Record Reliable, Study Says

A University of Chicago press release declares that the fossil record is reliable.  Susan M. Kidwell studied the record of bivalves as a function of their fragility and deduced that preservability of shells was only a minor factor in their observed abundance.  “In fact, if anything, variations having shells that seemed least likely to be […]

Can Evolution Repeat Itself?

A press release from University of Chicago reported today that “115-million-year-old fossil of a tiny egg-laying mammal thought to be related to the platypus provides compelling evidence of multiple origins of acute hearing in humans and other mammals” (emphasis added in all quotes).  The fossil apparently shows inner-ear bones in the monotreme lineage that supposedly […]
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