Almost immediately, I received links to various creationist sites poo pooing the whole thing and claiming that scientists were having to scramble to rethink everything in light of her. It was like, to them, some major evolutionary catastrophe.
Such happens when people who know very little start trying to find information to support a conclusion they very much want to be the case. It makes for horrid science.
So it was with excitement, that the Contrarian and I sat down to actually watch the Discovery special on her discovery and the immense scientific inquiry that has followed.
Ardi was located in Ethiopia, in the general area where Lucy had been found and where many hominid types have been discovered. Her age was and is pegged at 4.4 million years ago.
The process is argon dating. Argon, like uranium has a known half life. (We are pretty good at this stuff since we build bombs that work based in part on the half life of uranium.) The surrounding rock is melted down, in minute quantities, and the argon gas emitted, is measured, giving very accurate time readings. So Ardi is 4.4 (+ or – 50,000 ) years old.
Her skeleton, what was found at least, was in quite poor shape. It took more than three years just to clean the pieces, which were numerous. Through two different processes, one conducted in Tokyo and the other in California, the skull was reconstructed. Both models were near identical, giving efficacy to the correctness of the model.
Of course, as is always the case today, experts from many far flung disciplines are brought to bear on different aspects of the find, and testing begins. As far as I can tell, no adverse or anomalous results have occurred which contradict other conclusions.
Scientists are jumping for glee at the find as you might expect, for Ardi presents them with something utterly unexpected. She is far older than Lucy, yet she doesn’t exhibit much in the way of chimpanzee structure as they expected. As one expedition leader suggested, “you can’t predict what you could have no way of knowing might exist.”
Ardi does what all good discoveries do, it sets the scientific community awhirl in excitement. Things have come up that were not expected, and an explosion of new ideas and testing is being called for.
What scientists know at this point is this: That Ardi was bipedal. Contrary to the idiot sites (all starting from the premise that evolution is bogus, then searching for anything they can manipulate unscientifically to support their already arrived at conclusion and buffalo their rather dull and uneducated readers), this seems well established through normal examination of pelvic bones.
Yet, her feet are decidedly ape-like, having an extremely large toe suitable for wrapping around small limbs. Her hands are human, and there are not the proper bones one would expect in a knuckle walking ape. Her teeth are also human, the canine having shrunk to the size appropriate to humanoid types.
Since she is so old, and is far back but still before the common ancestor of both apes and humans, the question raging at this point is what evolutionary good was served by bipedalism, which brought this characteristic to the fore so very early on in the development of what would become homo sapiens?
Scientists historically have favored a savanna approach. As the graces overcame the forests as the climate changed, scavenging for food often required “standing” up to look around above the grasses. Now we know that no such savanna existed then. Ardi, by examination of the flora of her time, lived in woods.
Present theories are that Ardi and her kind were bipedal because it allowed use of the hands to carry food longer distances. This freed up females to raise more children ( supported by the record of increase), while males foraged farther afield for food and could return with sufficient quantities for the wife and kids. (Of course it was also safer that the females and young need not expose themselves to predators on the ground.)
Today, scientists are defining hominids from other ape like creatures simply on the basis of bipedalism. It was the big change, unheard of otherwise in the animal kingdom.
Where Ardi belongs on the family tree, make take a long time to decide. As those of us who dabble in this field know, the tree has been altered more than once over the last couple of hundred years. New discoveries are like that. They often upset the apple cart, and send scientists off to rethink everything again. No doubt, this will not be the last time; it certainly is not the first.
When I look at Ardi, and what specialists who create the “faces” of these creatures, show me of her life, I am given pause. I can imagine God watching little Ardi and her group, laughing with glee at their triumphs and play. One wonders if God stopped and smiled, wondering whether this creature would one day grow to a point where it would look upward and wonder “why, who, what?” God must have been excited to contemplate that moment in time when “first contact” would be made.
The wonder of evolution, the result of God’s (I believe) declaring by his Word, the start of creation, speak eloquently to us. We can imagine in all it’s glory the intricate melding of physical laws, the swirling interplay of matter and law that resulted over time in increasingly complex and more sentient creatures. We have before us today the result of that fine work. Amazing and making us tremble with awe. That through such a process, so elegant and surreal, tens of thousands of fly species could be created, different in minute aspects, of no consequence to anyone, but simply the way things play out in nature. Such a cornucopia of life explodes forth from the simple words, “let there be. . . ” And it was, and God said it was good.
See this site for general information and further links to actual science sites! Although I am aware of the limitations of Wikipedia, the information contained in this article is substantially the same as presented in the Discovery special.