New Fossil Rewrites the Story of Human Evolution - Evolution News & Views

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New Fossil Rewrites the Story of Human Evolution

The Smithsonian Institution's Hall of Human Origins announced early today that one of its scientists has discovered a new fossil that will rewrite the story of human evolution.

Found at an excavation site near the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., the fossil has been determined to be a hominid skull fragment. The scientist who discovered it designated it a new species and named it Homo washingtoniensis, or Washington Man.

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Radiometric dating has established that Washington Man lived approximately 5 million years ago. This makes him at least half a million years older than Ardipithecus ramidus ("Ardi"), who was previously thought to be our earliest human ancestor. Discovered in Ethiopia in 1992, Ardi is estimated to be 4.4 million years old.

The story of human evolution will have to be radically revised in light of the new discovery. "Instead of originating in Africa," a Smithsonian spokesman said, "humanity clearly got its start here in Washington, D.C. The hominid fossils found in Africa must have devolved from H. washingtoniensis individuals who migrated to that continent, perhaps on floating logs. Scientists at the Smithsonian have always been open to new evidence, even if it challenges long-standing theories, and this new evidence turns Darwin's theory of human origins completely upside down."

Paleoanthropologists elsewhere in the world are protesting that their stories of human evolution are much better. But a high-ranking official of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (who asked not to be identified) said, "They're all just stories anyway. Fossils are brought in after the fact to make them sound scientific. Who's to say one story is better than another?"

In accordance with accepted paleoanthropological methodology, scientists at the Smithsonian's Hall of Human Origins combined the H. washingtoniensis fragment with some unidentified fossils -- including a tooth -- found elsewhere in the Chesapeake Bay region. The scientists then reconstructed a complete skull, and the Smithsonian commissioned an artist from its Imagineering Department to recreate the probable appearance of Washington Man. The peer-reviewed results are being published today in Reports of the National Center for Science Education.

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Some people questioned the out-of-Washington theory yesterday after reports that a person resembling the artist's conception had been seen on the Washington Metro. The fossil's discoverer, however, discounted the reports. In a statement released to the press today he said, "Who you gonna believe -- me or your own eyes?"