Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Common Ancestor

(CNN) -- Scientists hailed Tuesday a 47-million-year-old fossil of an ancient "small cat"-sized primate as a possible common ancestor of monkeys, humans and other primates.

The fossil is believed to be an ancestor of monkeys, humans and other primates.

Scientists say the fossil, dubbed "Ida," is a transitional species, living around the time the primate lineage split into two groups: A line that would eventually produce humans and monkeys, and another that would give rise to primates such as lemurs.

The fossil was formally named Darwinius masillae, in honor of the anniversary of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday.

"This is the most complete primate fossil before human burial," said Dr. Jorn Hurum, of the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo, who led the study of the fossil, a young female primate.

"And it's not a few million years old; it's 47 million years old," Hurum said, speaking at a news conference at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The fossil was discovered in 1983 in the Messel Pit, Germany, near Frankfurt, and had been until recently in private collections, according to an article published Tuesday in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, a publication of the Public Library of Science. Read the report from PLoS ONE

However, because it was split into two parts, its significance was not immediately recognized.

An international team of scientists, which Hurum led, conducted a detailed forensic analysis of the fossil for the past two years, the release said.

Hurum nicknamed the fossil Ida after his young daughter, he said.

The fossil's body is nearly complete; only part of one leg is missing, according to Hurum. In addition to the bones, the softer features are also preserved, as are the remnants of its last meal: fruits, seeds and leaves, which were found in Ida's gut, according to the scientists.

"It's such a beautiful specimen," Hurum said of Ida. He said the fossil is about 2 feet long, "like a small cat in size."

The fossil has both adult and baby teeth, indicating that it was weaned and about 9 months old when it died, the PLoS article said.

She would have eventually grown to the size of a lemur, the article said.

The young primate fossil does not have two crucial anatomical features found in lemurs: a grooming claw on the second digit of its foot and a fused row of teeth in the middle of its lower jaw, known as a toothcomb, the scientists said.

X-rays revealed a broken wrist, which the team of scientists believe may have contributed to Ida's death, according to a news release from the museum at Oslo.

Ida may have been overcome by carbon dioxide gas while drinking from the Messel lake, which was often covered by a low-lying blanket of the gas, the news release said. Hampered by the broken wrist, the young primate may have fallen into unconsciousness and may have slipped into the lake. The primate sunk to the bottom and was preserved for 47 million years, the news release said.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hart -less

Leigh Hart (pictured left), aka “That Guy”—a humor columnist/comedian for the New Zealand Herald that seems to be a cross between Dave Barry and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), recently tweaked the noses and bruised the egos of the dedicated Bigfooters attending a Bigfoot conference in Ohio. Like “Borat,” Hart travels around misrepresenting himself while depending on the kindness and naiveté of strangers. He then writes or films humorous accounts of his exploits, mostly at the expense of the people he meets. Hart’s latest victims/subjects were the attendees at the 21st Annual Bigfoot Conference / EXPO at the Salt Fork State Park Lodge in Ohio at the beginning of this month.

He attended the conference hoping for the chance to engage in his own brand of skullduggery, and he got a break when one of the featured speakers, Doug Hajicek (the man behind History Channel’s show Monster Quest) proved to be a no-show. According to Hart, “I saw an opportunity, and volunteered to speak.” At this point, it’s hard to know exactly what was said that earned Hart a spot on the program, he claimed to be a TV producer and an expert on the New Zealand variety of Bigfoot, but that’s exactly what happened. His talk was a carefully crafted web of absurdities designed to poke fun at the very concept of Bigfoot, not to mention the people who believe in them. Hart even claimed to own the world’s largest feces analyzing machine, which might explain the distinct odor of BS that surrounded his appearance at the conference.

In his apology, Hart claimed that his, “intention was never to insult anybody personally,” but honestly, his type of humor relies on insulting and demeaning innocent people by making them the butt of the joke. And Billy Willard, the Director of Sasquatch Watch of Virginia, wrote that Hart’s article was “the height of unprofessionalism.” Well, I beg to differ. In this time of reality TV shows and Borat-type humor—this genre of humor dates back at least to Candid Camera, though now it’s distinctly nastier in temperament—this type of “humorous” treatment is the professional norm.

But seriously, while I hate to blame the victim in this case, a simple Google search would have revealed Hart’s identity and his modus operandi, and this situation would have at least been minimized. Honestly, though, he still would have written his column no matter what, given that he was actually there at the conference. Well, when one of your major speakers cancels, you tend to grab whatever opportunity that comes your way, even if it is too good to be true. And in this case, it certainly was.

Hermon Joyner

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

AKA Bigfoot World Map

A Bigfoot by any other name...

Check out this highly interactive AKA Bigfoot World Map, created by your truly.

View AKA Bigfoot World Map in a larger map
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