] is heavily distorted, both through post-mortem diploic expansion and compression from an inferposterior direction (p. 434).
The original shape of the severely distorted mastoids cannot be reconstructed, but other parts of the left temporal are well preserved (p. 435).
It is preserved in two main parts, the neurocranium with the superior and lateral orbital margins, but lacking most of the cranial base; and the face, lacking the premolar and anterior tooth crowns and the right incisor roots (p. 433).
Only the right M2 crown is sufficiently preserved to allow reliable metric dental comparisons. It is particularly small, falling below the known ranges of other early hominin species (p. 434).
Inability to distinguish between first and second molars makes meaningful intertaxon comparisons of these elements difficult (p. 437).
The sex of KNM-WT 40000 is difficult to infer. The small M2 crown size could suggest that the specimen is female (p. 436).
HISTORY OF THE HOMINIDS
One quick and easy way for a paleontologist to get the publics attention is to announce a find that is either: (1) very old; or (2) directly related to the ancestry of humans. With K. platyops, Leakey does both. And so the race for claim on the oldest common ancestor is on—again! In 1994, Tim White and colleagues described the new species Australopithecus ramidus (which they renamed in 1995 as Ardipithecus ramidus), dated at 4.4 million years old.
When first found (and still considered an australopithecine), morphologically this was the most ape-like australopithecine yet discovered (as well as the earliest), and seemed a good candidate for the most distant common ancestor of the hominids. A year later, Meave Leakey (author of the current Nature article) and colleagues described the 3.9-4.2 million year old Australopithecus anamensis. This taxon is slightly more similar to Ardipithecus and Pan (the chimpanzees) than the better known and slightly later A. afarensis, and stood for a while as the ancestor of the later hominids (or a close cousin to some unknown, ancestral taxon).
Some have argued that part or all of the material regarding K. platyops belongs more properly in the genus Australopithecus. If Leakey et al. are right in their assertion that facial flatness connects K. platyops and H. rudolfensis in a significant manner, then that implies that their lineage had an evolutionary history distinct from the australopithecines. Therefore, evolutionists would conclude that we are descended from Kenyanthropus by way of H. (or K.) rudolfensis, or that the latter species is completely distinct from us and does not belong in our genus at all.
PROBLEMS WITH K. PLATYOPS
Aside from the obvious concerns over the extrapolations made from this fossil find, there are two other issues with which the authors conveniently chose not to deal. (1) No remains have been recovered from the site in which the cranium was found, and as a result, we know nothing about K. platyops locomotory adaptation, particularly its degree of bipedality. Was this creature even able to walk upright as humans do? (2) Leakey placed a tremendous amount of importance on the flatness of the facial features of this fossil, due to the widely acknowledged fact that more modern creatures would possess an admittedly flatter facial structure than their older, more ape-like alleged ancestors. This is no small problem, because creatures younger than K. platyops, and therefore closer to Homo sapiens, have much more pronounced, ape-like facial features. K. platyops was dated at 3.5 million years, and yet has a much flatter face than any other hominid that old. Thus, the evolutionary scenario seems to be moving in the wrong direction. As Tim White (anthropologist of the University of California at Berkeley) put it: If you think of a family tree with a trunk, were talking about two trunks, if theyre right (as quoted in McCall, 2001, p. 4-A).
COMING TO A NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC NEAR YOU!
In the acknowledgments section of her Nature article, Leakey thanked the National Geographic Society for funding fieldwork and laboratory studies. This simple thank-you likely indicates that the editors of National Geographic soon will be sending out a full-color, slick-paper, professionally produced, eye-catching magazine into our homes so that we, our children, and our grandchildren can read articles about this new species. National Geographic and others are quick to run cover stories featuring world-famous evolutionists such as Donald C. Johanson (discoverer of our alleged hominid ancestor, Lucy) or the late Louis and Mary Leakey (in-laws of Meave, both of whom spent their entire professional careers on the African continent searching for the ever-elusive missing link between humans and ape-like ancestors). However, when the issue hits newsstands near you, remember what Greg Kirby, senior lecturer in population biology at Flinders University, Adelaide, said in an address on the case for evolution in South Australia in 1976: …not being a paleontologist, I dont want to pour too much scorn on paleontologists, but if you were to spend your life picking up bones and finding little fragments of head and little fragments of jaw, theres a very strong desire to exaggerate the importance of those fragments….
Jones, S., R. Martin, and D. Pilbeam, eds. (1992), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press).
Leakey, M.G., F. Spoor, F.H. Brown, P.N. Gathogo, C. Kiarie, L.N. Leakey, and I. McDougall (2001), New Hominin Genus from Eastern Africa Shows Diverse Middle Pliocene Lineages, Nature, 410:433-440, March 22.
McCall, William (2001), Its Old, Unusual—Is It Us?, Tallahassee Democrat, pp. 3A-4A, March 22.
Raven, P.H., and G.B. Johnson, eds. (1989), Biology (St. Louis, MO: Times Mirror/Mosby College Publishing), second edition.
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