A tiny, beady-eyed, long-tailed primate with hand-like feet is now the world's oldest known fossil primate skeleton. In a study to be released in the journal Nature this week, an international team of researchers describe their discovery of the Archicebus achilles and how it's adding to what we understand about our own evolution.
The Archicebus achilles--named for its long tail and strange feet--was found in an ancient lakebed in China. The lack of oxygen at the bottom of the lake means that this specimen is remarkably complete and well-preserved. Recovered from sedimentary rock strata deposited in an ancient lake roughly 55 million years ago, this fossil is the oldest primate fossil, beating the previous record-holders--including Darwinius from Messel in Germany and Notharctus from the Bridger Basin in Wyoming --by 7 million years.
"It's not just that it's the oldest primate, but it turns out that this fossil tells us that primates had already been evolving for quite some time. This primate was already fairly advanced in terms of the evolutionary tree," says Christopher Beard, a coauthor of the study and paleontologist from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
The Archicebus sits at a branch of the evolutionary tree, which goes in two directions: one toward living tarsiers—large-eyed night-dwelling small primates—and anthropoids, the monkeys, apes and humans, which have smaller eyes and are most active during the day.
This is the first time that we have had such a complete picture of the divergence between these two branches.
"Any time you find a specimen like this, it's a bit special. It's adding a lot of depth of history," says John Flynn, another coauthor and curator for the American Museum of Natural History.
Given Archicebus's size—weighing about an ounce and measuring 7 to 9 inches long including the tail—and its basal evolutionary position, this discover supports the idea that the common ancestor of both tarsiers and anthropoids were quite small. These two branches, anthropoids and tarsiers, have been thought to be evolutionarily linked for some time, and now scientists are starting to understand the age of that split.
Beyond its addition to our understanding of evolution, the ancient primate is also unique in its physique. One of the most curious characteristics of the Archicebus is its feet. Tarsiers tend to have elongated heel bones, which help give them leverage for their giant leaps. Anthropoids have feet specially designed for grasping—though humans are a bit of a special case, given our unique disposition of walking bipedally.
"I was convinced pretty early on by the foot of this creature, which looked like nothing else but a little marmoset, which is a type of monkey from South America. I was convinced this thing was going to be a very primitive anthropoid," Beard says. "Here's an animal that combines features that we've just never seen before in one fossil primate."
But after the exhaustive analysis, it became clear that Archicebus was also closely linked to tarsiers.
To fully analyze the fragile fossil, researchers collaborated with the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. Using a high-intensity X-ray beam, the Synchrotron scanned the fossil, producing high-resolution data. This data was then rendered into 3-D versions to be analyzed and compared with other primates, both living and fossilized.
The analysis and data-gathering was one of the longest and most extensive phases of the study. Researchers created a matrix that included data from more than 150 species and more than 2,000 different characteristics. All told, the process took 10 years and required collaboration from many institutions internationally. But the patience and practice is now finally paying off.
"[The Archicebus is like] what we find so often in paleontology, but we can never predict it, and that's an animal that's unlike everything else we've ever seen," Beard says. "It's a kind of hybrid or mosaic of different features that are found in different animals today, but never together in one. It's truly a unique creature."
inb4 "the evolution is a lie"
Evolution is applicable to a frame of time and so in descussion we must make that frame of time known or evolution in general can be argued to be false.
Darwin postulated that species change into other species by a gradual collection of mutations, wherein, the specimens with the 'stronger' mutations survive. Those with the weaker mutations don't. To date, nothing has ever been found to prove this. There are no transitional fossils. There are no vestigal organs. There is no junk DNA. No one has ever found a mechanism whereby such a transition might ever have happened. In addition, despite all manner of attempts, no one has been able to create even the simplest living organism. With the discovery of DNA and the advent of micro-biology, and mega computing power, all manner of evidences are being discovered which contradict the concept of either randomness accounting for speciation, or for a gradual transformation of anything into something else.
I have spent some time reviewing the arguments. I have come to the conclusion, Darwinism has fundamentally failed to prove anything it postulated. Yet, we are subjected to a daily diet of fairy stories and faith statements by those who profess to 'know' all about Darwinian evolution. Whenever I ask anyone to demonstrate this magical event (supposedly repeated over millions of years, and millions of species) there comes tautology, referals to peers, who refer to other peers, who refer to others, ad nauseam, disinformation, fraud, and 'it is because we say it is' answers. I have asked several quite straightforward questions. I have asked these questions many times. So have other people, right up the line to the top scientists in the fields. Yet NO ONE, scientist, philosopher, or layman, seems able to answer them. So here they are again:-
1) How did life come to be on this planet? I don't want tautologies such as "It was the origin of the first self replicating molecule". I don't want theories, ideologies, ifs and maybes. I want the scientifically proven and demonstrable MECHANISM.
2) Demonstrate the mechanism whereby a liver changes into a lung, or a dog into a giraffe. I don't want waffle such as "enzymes do this or that", or “we believe” fairy stories. I want the demonstrable, proven, repeatable factual mechanism; where the molecules are built and how.
3) Give an example, ANY example, of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome.
Here's a hint: anybody who can produce the FACTUAL proof to any of these simple questions will be the next Nobel Prize winner.
Seems the moment one challenges Darwinism, one is greeted with the following steps:
2) 'You don't understand evolution' arguments
3) Exasperated irritable referrals to other people
4) Wildly inaccurate statements about the nature of species and the so-called evidences
5) Eventual hate mail.
Now, if Darwinian evolution was so well proven, none of these should be necessary. It should be the simplest matter to produce some mechanistic, provable, repeatable evidence, such as in chemistry, or mathematics. But no, there NEVER comes forth any such thing.
Of late, I have discovered that the scientific community, if they can be called that, have ditched the gradual randomness concept and the Tree of Life representation, and have moved to a different platform. In this latest fantasy world,random mutations 'suddenly' happened, all at once, and then suddenly stopped, all at once. Once again, no one can explain how any of this took place, just that it 'must have done'. The Tree has morphed too, into a network rather than a bottom-up structure (presumably to try and explain why fully completed species appear millions of years earlier than Darwin ever anticipated, and why the same organs keep appearing in different species which had no known contact with one another). These new ideas fall under the banner 'Neo-Darwinism'. Quite fascinating. When one questions this, and asks 'were the old Darwinists wrong then?' back comes the typical pomposity 'It is the Scientific Method'. In other words, "we got it wrong for 150 years". I say they have still got it wrong. I know it, and I believe they do too, that's why there's a constant refusal to meet in open debate with scientists from the Intelligent Design school, or those from the Creationist groups. Rather than face these new scientific schools in open debate, the Darwinists try to ridicule, belittle, and smear. Now why would they do that if they had such overwhelming proof? Fact is, they don't have ANY proof whatsoever. What they have is 150 of atheists trying to find, sift and fit only those 'evidences' that suit their hatred of the idea that some external intelligence created Life and all it's manifestations. The ID guys believe it was 'aliens' in some form or another. The Creationists believe it was God. Whatever, there is a growing body of scientists now who accept that no way was Life and the 1.5million species surviving today, the result of random accidents. The complexities and sheer scale of molecular mutations necessary to achieve transitions from one species to another is so vast, as to render such a concept unacceptable.
So...my questions remain. I know that whatever responses are produced, usually malignant, will not answer, or even attempt to. I know this because Darwinism is a fraudulent pseudo-science and cannot provide any. Darwinism is the ignorance and blind faith of those who accuse Christians of ignorance and blind faith.
"A tiny, beady-eyed, long-tailed primate with hand-like feet is now the world’s oldest known fossil primate skeleton."
"Recovered from sedimentary rock strata deposited in an ancient lake roughly 55 million years ago"
I'm really curious to know how they ascertained the "beady-eyed", and "roughly 55 million years ago" parts.
Because they would've had to have had a living, breathing, primate for the beady-eyed part, or am I missing something here.
And given the rate at which the sun's diameter has been, and still is shrinking--5ft./hr; just 20 million years ago, the surface of the sun would have been right here where we now stand. And If they are relying on carbon dating, don't they know how crossly unreliable it has been shown to be?! ...Inquiring minds would like to know, at least this one would.
Needed better proof reading: it's missing the phrase "the other toward" in one place and in another it has "discover" where "discovery" is meant.
See: www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=out-on-a-limb Scientific American, March 2003 issue, "Out on a Limb: A stunning new fossil shows how simians got their start" By Kate Wong. Excerpts: "...a nearly complete 55-million-year-old skeleton of a mouse-size creature known as Carpolestes simpsoni. Like modern primates (or euprimates...), it has long fingers and toes, as well as nails on its opposable digits... But unlike euprimates, this animal exhibits laterally positioned eyes and legs built for climbing, not leaping. ... But the anatomy evident in the new specimen signifies to discoverers ... that Carpolestes and its fellow plesiadapiforms were in fact archaic primates..."
Also see: news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/02/070201-primates.html "Fossils of 'Most Primitive Primate' Found Near Yellowstone" by Brian Handwerk, National Geographic News, February 1, 2007. Excerpts: "...in a new study, the paleontologists who found the fossils say that plesiadapiforms are in fact the most primitive known primates. ... two 56-million-year-old fossils embedded in limestone in Wyoming's Bighorn Basin. ... 'Not only does it share many characteristics with other primitive primates, but it seems to also share characteristics with the most primitive living tree shrews [which are not primates],' Bloch said... In addition to detailing the fossil finds, the study compared 173 skeletal characteristics of plesiadapiforms, primates, tree shrews, and flying lemurs, in hopes of unveiling their evolutionary links."
"Comparisons of 85 living and extinct species suggest that all plesiadapiforms are actually primitive primates, Bloch said."
"The team's finding is likely to spark debate, some scientists note, because Dryomomys szalayi doesn't have all of the traits traditionally associated with modern primates."
@ Usutu: Good post, but allow me to share some nuances from my own research. Darwin actually thought mutations ("sports" as they were called then) only played a small role in evolution. He thought the main driving force was from organisms continually being pressured to adapt over generations, sort of like Lamarck's idea but much slower. He also had a wrong idea about how one generation passed on traits to the next. So evolution was accepted without any specific theory having been shown to work. When scientists eventually discovered that heredity was passed on in discrete units, as Gregor Mendel had begun to discover back in Darwin's time, it looked like evolution was dead in the water, so the evolutionary scientists put their heads together and decided mutations might provide the new variations that evolution needs. Well, they had to, as there wasn't any other possibility. So "neo-Darwinism" was born.
Darwinism took hold because people came to believe that it was the job of science to explain everything, the past as well as the present, how things began as well as how they operate now. Science is the study of nature, so of course any scientific explanation of how things started can only appeal to natural processes. So some form of evolution is the only possible scientific explanation of how life got to be as it is, because Earth hasn't been around forever. One thing that aided belief in evolution at the time, was that a lot of people, even distinguished scientists, believed that simple living things ("germs") were constantly forming from raw chemicals, because people had no idea of how very complex even bacteria are.
There are a number of fossils that can be accepted as transitional, or something closely related to a transitional form. Then again, there's no compelling reason for accepting them as such without this newer view of science. One or two organs may be vestigial, hardly any compared to what was once believed. Vestigial organs may indicate common descent but they may also indicate a common reaction to a loss of something in the environment, and at any rate show degeneration or devolution. There is probably some junk DNA, as decay and devolution are common in this fallen world, but a lot has been shown to have functions we didn't know about and thus illustrate that life is more complex than we realized even recently.
Your "liver to lung" and "dog to giraffe" are bad examples, as nobody is saying those transitions did or could happen. The general point is well taken, though: "evolutionary science" is largely a matter of making up stories, mostly pretty vague, about how something might have changed into something else. It's not really like other sciences when it comes to actually demonstrating that its most significant claims could and do happen.
How old are you? I'm 53, and even in that time I've seen things I was told to believe because scientists much wiser than I had determined them to be true, turn out to be things that nobody believes anymore. They thought everything worked out pretty well then with what they knew about then, but now they've added Dark Matter and Dark Energy in amounts far greater than the known forms. Yes, they say it shows "the self-correcting nature of science," but they don't seem to be making any real progress, and who knows if they might turn out to be wrong again? When I was young, evolutionists said that nobody who was intelligent believed in creation. Then they said that no scientists believed in creation. Then they said no reputable scientists believed in creation. Some are still saying that no scientists who contributed anything to science or were published in a non-creationist peer-reviewed journal believe in creation, but they're wrong about that, too. I suppose some will always say that "no true scientist" could believe in creation.
@55rebel: The eye sockets of the skull can be reconstructed from the pieces and show the limit of the size of the eyes. Then, too, "beady" might be a relative term here, as some small primates like tarsiers and bushbabies have relatively huge eyes compared to their small heads, so these critters' eyes might not look so beady except by comparison. The age is probably based on decay of heavier elements such as Uranium, and the tests would have been performed on volcanic rocks above and below the sediments the fossils were found in. According to another report I saw, this is one of those fossils turned in by a farmer, so they may be going by the characteristics of the sediments to guess which layer it came from, maybe with a description from the farmer and the geology of the area of the farm. Yes, nobody really knows if any of the dating methods truly reflect the apparent age, and many "discrepant" ages have come up and been rejected. They wouldn't have tried carbon (C14) dating (which is generally not grossly unreliable for dry artefacts of historical age), because that can only measure tens of thousands of years. Creationists have had things thought to be millions of years old tested by C14 and gotten measureable results, but evolutionists naturally can't accept the results of a "misused" tool and say it must be due to contamination.