I hate the breathless and somewhat hyperbole-laden reporting of every new fossil find. This month, it’s Ardipithecus Ramidus, which the press is calling the “oldest pre-human” fossil. Um, wouldn’t the oldest pre-human fossil be the oldest fossil? This obsession with a “missing link” between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom is a bit tiresome. There are jillions of links, and there are undoubtedly going to be jillions more found in the future. Every time someone finds something from the primate branch, the media goes into a veritable frenzy.
Of course, we find anything which casts any light on our own branch of the tree much more interesting than the spectacular specimens of pre-whale fossils back in February. But to claim that this Ardipithecus shows that we didn’t evolve from chimps is ridiculous. Nobody claims we did. Some biologists and anthropologists may use the shorthand of saying we evolved from something that looked something like a modern chimp, but nobody ever said that we evolved and chimps stopped. Evolution doesn’t work that way. Everything is just as “highly evolved” as everything else. Each species occupies a niche for which it has become adapted over eons. That doesn’t in any way mean that humans are the most evolved form of life – we’re just the only ones who write about it.
Oh, and scientists have been writing about Ardipithecus since at least 1999, and even pointed out that it was a hominid but not a common ancestor with modern chimps back in 2001.