Eyes, brains and thumbs: the wonders of primate evolution (December 3 – 7)

During our last week we will concentrate on primate and specifically human evolution. We look closely at our own lineage not just because it is of immediate interest to us, but also so we can directly apply concepts of evolutionary theory to organisms intimately familiar to us. The Web has almost as many sites on issues of human evolution as it does on dinosaurs, so most of the pages I link you to provide many other connections. Start first with the Institute of Human Origins based at Arizona State University. They have an excellent additional website called “becoming human“. The Wikipedia page on primates and their evolution is an excellent summary and source of references.

As you examine these websites, please also keep in mind that the fossil record of hominid evolution has produced numerous competing hypotheses, so you will find many disagreements, even on what seem to be basic observations. (Note, for example, the popular pseudoscience surrounding the “aquatic ape hypothesis“.) As an example of the hype and expectations that have dogged the study of human evolution for over a century, here is the classic story of Piltdown Man.

Here is the Fall 2018 Final Exam description. (Test seating: Students with last names starting with A through L in Room 205; M-Z in Room 216.)

Remember: Our last review session is Friday, 3:30 – 4:30 pm, in Scovel 205. Your final quiz is a superquiz covering the entire course. Study early, study hard!

Mastodon tooth surface (Pleistocene, Holmes County, Ohio).

Geology in the News –

Another amazing paleontological discover in China: Hundreds of pterosaur eggs, including embryos. What we know about pterosaur biology has just increased an order of magnitude. From the abstract: “Fossil eggs and embryos that provide unique information about the reproduction and early growth of vertebrates are exceedingly rare, particularly for pterosaurs. Here we report on hundreds of three-dimensional (3D) eggs of the species Hamipterus tianshanensis from a Lower Cretaceous site in China, 16 of which contain embryonic remains.”

An unfortunate but not uncommon fight has broken out over the ownership of fantastic dinosaur fossils on private land. It may come down to what the definition of a mineral is, as in “mineral rights”. These fossils, of course, should be in a museum.

Speaking of museums, here’s a story of an important Cretaceous bird fossil recognized for what it is a full 25 years after its discovery and deposition in a museum. There are many treasures in museums waiting for trained and interested eyes.

Enypniastes eximia, commonly known as the “headless chicken sea monster”, has been recently filmed in the Gulf of Mexico. It is a dancing, swimming sea cucumber. Isn’t life delightful? (Much of it, anyway. Not tarantula hawks.)

Here’s a New York Times article describing the Permian Extinctions — and comparing these horrific events to the effects of climate change today. Be very afraid.

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