Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ardipithecus. Finally

For the last 15 years, paleoanthropologists have been bitching and moaning over the reluctance of their colleague, Tim White (UC Berkeley) to give them access to the skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus, a 4.4. million year old hominid that he and his co-workers discovered in Ethiopia in 1992 and briefly described in a paper published in Nature in 1994. Whatever. As a community, the paleoanthroplogists are a fractious and disputive bunch (quite unlike the vertebrate paleontologists, folks!) and if they weren't complaining about this they'd be moaning about some other specimen that they're not being allowed to look at. Anyway, later on today they can put their kvetching aside for just a few minutes and curl up with the latest edition of Science, which contains the first detailed description of the specimen.

For those who want a measured, even-handed account of the significance of Ardipithecus (and yes, it is a much, much more important find than the stupid monkey everyone got excited over in May) and exactly why it took so long to describe it, I refer you to this excellent blog post by Carl Zimmer. For everyone else, here's a list of things that took less time than Tim White's description of Ardipithecus:
  • First circumnavigation of the Earth: 3 years (Magellan et al)
  • Digging the Channel Tunnel: 6 years
  • Defeating Hitler: 6 years
  • Conquering the Known World: 10 years (Alexander the Great)
  • Writing Lord of the Rings: 12 years
Plainly this is science on an Epic scale.
BTW, I'm hereby launching a campaign not to refer to this fossil as "Ardi." Enough with the cutesy names for fossils (Ida, Ardi, etc.). We're grown-ups, OK?

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