Friday, October 02, 2009

Ardi, You Gorgeous Creature!

If my blog is the first you have heard of Ardi, you need to get out more. Ardipithecus ramidus is her species, "Ardi" is her nickname, and I love her. She is, I will admit, a bit old for me, and a bit dead. Four point four million years dead. So it is a bit of a Platonic love, even if she predated Plato by more years than the gent could have imagined were possible. She made the front page of the New York Times today (that's the link above), with a photo spread online and everything, and I knew exactly what I was getting into when I clicked to look at the comments. I swear, the experimental studies on cognitive dissonance prove that creationists know they are liars: Festinger knew that we tend to look for confirming evidence--things that support what we already believe--and tend to avoid discomfirming evidence... but creationists are all over this story like stupid on Ken Ham, making excuses for what seems like the millionth nail in their pathetic coffin.

For those of you who love the archaeology/anthropology bit, have fun with all the wonderful articles and commentary. For those of you who also enjoy watching a nice train wreck... don't forget to read the comment threads.

It’s predictable as sunrise; it’s predicable as tide;
As the evidence is published, it is just as soon denied.
“It’s the fossil of a monkey!” “Hey, my brother’s also short!”
“There is nothing in the Bible that’s denied by this report!”
“Evolutionist conspiracy!” I cannot list them all,
As if Ardi acts as proof there was Creation, and then Fall.
There will never be a fossil found to calm the silly storm,
That’s accepted as example that’s transitional in form.
The specimens were numerous, but never quite enough—
Unless you’ve found “the missing link”, they’re gonna call your bluff.

Our family tree has changed again, as many times before;
Each fossil was disputed in its turn, so what’s one more?
How comforting—there’s one thing that’s consistent from the start:
Creationists and ignorance will never, ever part.

As an aside... The NYTimes article, in part, states
The Ardipithecus specimen, an adult female, probably stood four feet tall and weighed about 120 pounds, almost a foot taller and twice the weight of Lucy. Its brain was no larger than a modern chimp’s. It retained an agility for tree-climbing but already walked upright on two legs, a transforming innovation in hominids, though not as efficiently as Lucy’s kin.
In one sentence, they identify Ardi as female; in the next and following, her pronoun is "it". Wha? My pets have the privilege of gendered pronouns, but not my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-.... great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother? (bonus points for whoever can fill in the ellipses within an order of magnitude) This is just not fair!



Benjamin Geiger said...

Wait, I thought the last common ancestor between cuttlefish and humans was further back than that...

The Ridger, FCD said...

Maybe "she" was for this particular one and "it" for the species?

george.w said...

Assuming a 16-year-generation (a big assumption) that would be about 2.75e^6 generations, I think. But something tells me she wouldn't object if I got it wrong.

jdhuey said...

While 'she' is no doubt a hominid, it is not at all clear that her species is on the direct line that lead to us. The likelihood of her species being our direct ancestor is not possible to estimate because we don't know the how many different hominid species were around back then.

Dawkins, in one of his books, presented the vision of a woman holding the left hand of her mother with her right, who in turned held the left hand of her mother with her right, and so on, back through time forming an unbroken (obviously) chain back into the distant past. At no time is a daughter that much different from her mother (except in the ways that all daughters are different than their mothers) but gradually there are real morphological changes. He takes this chain back to the point where we have our Last Common Ancestor (LCA) with the Chimpanzee. Now from this LCA (or perhaps from her sister) we begin to form another chain but this time one that goes forward in time leading to the modern Chimp.

Ardi is *not* on the chain that leads to chimps but she might be on the chain that leads directly to us or she might be in one of the many, many side branches that lead to dead ends.

Cuttlefish said...

Ridger--That makes sense. The NYTimes, though, are sticklers for grammar, and the referent for "it" is clearly "[t]he Ardipithecus specimen, an adult female", which to me suggests they are speaking of the specimen rather than the species.

JDH-- Even if her species was on our direct evolutionary path, the odds would still be against her being my great (x2.75e^6) grandmother. If memory serves, there were population bottlenecks well after her time, and the odds on any particular line being "the" successful one would be slim. But hey, that's what poetic license is for!

Philip said...

But if Ardi has surviving ancestors, then she is an ancestor to all of us. No real way to know that of course.