another primate fossil

and, from what Brian Switek says over at Laelaps, a whole lot more media hype.

The new fossil is a 38-million-year-old primate from Asia, Ganlea megacania (the species name refers to the fact that it has enormous canine teeth). While the paper describing this fragmentary fossil (teeth & bits of jaw) describe it as a seed-eating monkey, nonetheless the overseas press seems to have had something of a field day: the common ancestor of man & apes evolved in Asia, for example. Or, even worse, ‘early man evolved in Burma’. That last headline’s particularly bad – as you know, the last common ancestor of chimps & humans lived in Africa about 6-7 million years ago, so there’s no way that a claim of early humans evolving in Burma can be justified. The scientific paper itself makes no such claims, & you have to wonder why the journalists concerned felt they had to descent into such extravagant hyperbole.

Anyway, Brian does his usual excellent job of discussing the fossil & its significance; well worth a read. And what I particularly enjoyed about the comments thread for his post is that one of the authors of the Ganlea paper came over to add his perspective on the piece, & was joined by other researchers with somewhat different perspectives. Previously this sort of argument would have been held behind the scenes, & it’s rather neat to have the opportunity to see how scientists bat ideas around & discuss/defend their findings. I suspect that with the advent of science blogs this sort of discussion will become more & more common.

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