Australopithecines Vs. Homo Essay

1948 words - 8 pages

Genetic evidence sheds considerable light on the origins of the hominid lineage. An increasing body of fossil data helps us to understand where and when hominids came into existence. The first signs of hominid evolution are the morphological changes associated with bipedality, a locomotor pattern that offered fitness, advantages in a new environment. However, other behaviors remained similar to those of nonhuman primates. Dramatic progress came with the evolution of Homo erectus, who exhibited more "human" morphology and life ways. Thus, behavioral, fossil and artifact data couple to give us a glimpse into our evolutionary past.

The molecular clock is a method which determines how long ago a certain ancestor diverged into a new species. Up until the 1960's people believed that humans came into existence twenty million years ago, but Alan Wilson and Vincent Sarich came up with an idea to determine how closely related certain animals were and how much of their DNA was shared. They came up with something called DNA hybridization and mistakenly stumbled upon the molecular clock. Wilson and Sarich closely studied previous research done with pigs, elephants and horses, and according to these studies they had gotten an approximate number of how long ago these animal species came into existence. This measurement was called Genetic Distant Units. Using the DNA hybridization Wilson and Sarich compared pigs with boars, elephants with Indian elephants, and a horse and zebra. The difference between animals in genetic distance units matched up exactly to the millions of years these animals diverged into new species. This therefore, was named the Molecular Clock. The Molecular clock was used to figure out when humans diverged into their own species. According to Wilson and Sarich, they discovered that the chimpanzee and human DNA was five genetic distant units, which meant that the humans diverged into their own species five million years ago. (Miller 10/27/05)

Five to seven million years ago is a tremendous difference from what was previously thought to be the date when humans diverged into its species: Homo sapiens, which was thought to be twenty million years ago. In order to support this new found theory, fossils that were found were used as evidence. Fossils are mineralized remains of something organic or alive. The most common fossils found are bones that have turned into rock. The fossil, which determined when our ancestors diverged from chimpanzees, was found in Chad 1,500 miles from the East African Rift Valley. Fossil dating is determined according to the sedimentary layers it was discovered in like those found in the Great Rift Valley. This is called relative dating. Relative dating only tells us of something is older or younger. Another method of dating is called chronometric dating also known as potassium argon dating and carbon 14 dating. These two methods measures the potassium-argon in the rock in which the fossil...

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