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Interpreting Evidence: An Approach to Teaching Human Evolution in the Classroom Author(s): Jeremy DeSilva Source: The American Biology

Teacher, Vol. 66, No. 4 (Apr., 2004), pp. 257-260+262-267 Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the National Association of Biology Teachers Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4451668 . Accessed: 06/11/2013 15:22
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INTERPRETING

EVIDENCE
EVO IUTI
0

AnApproach toTeaching H U MAN

in the Classroom

JEREMYDESILVA

the best topicteachers canuse to exempli?erhaps


fy the natureof science is paleoanthropology, the study of human evolution through the fossil record. Science educatorshave an opportunity to tackle "How do we know?"questions by examining evidences of our past and accuratelydefining the terms "hypothesis," "fact," and "belief." "theory," They can use recentdiscoveriesto demonstratethat science is a self-correcting mechanism of understanding the world. By examining different hypotheses, they can encouragethe skepticism,debate, and challengeto authorityon which science thrives. Often, teaching human evolution is a struggle. Teacherscan be derailedinto philosophicaldiscussions in a science class. They can fallvictim to a inappropriate
JEREMYDESILVA is an

curriculum design that leaves evolution to the end of the year, forcing them to squeeze four billion years of life into the last two weeks of June. Even schools addressing biological evolution may fail to teach the evolutionary history of the mammals sitting in front of them. In this article, we present an updated approach to teaching human evolution, and a model for explaining what science is and how it is done.

What Is the Problem?


There may be no other scientific exploration that elicits more passion, skepticism, and debate than human origins. Paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey writes, "All people are innately curious and seek to know why and how they came to be." (Leakey, 2003). Since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of have been Species in 1859, paleoanthropologists
INTERPRETING EVIDENCE 257

educator at the Boston Museum of Science and in the Department of Anthropology at Boston University, Boston, MA 02215; e-mail: jdesilva@bu.edu.

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searching for fossil evidence of our past, and fiercely debating hypotheses for human ancestry.Many popular ideas have come and gone, and some of the most enthusiasticallyendorsed hypotheses have withered in light of new evidence.Just in the last two years, newly discovered fossil hominids have forced paleoanthropologists to reanalyze the evolution of bipedalism in our ancestors (Shipman, 2002), and to reevaluatethe morphology and timing of the last common ancestor with chimpanzees (Brunet, 2002; Wood, 2002). But, textbooks often do not communicate the excitement and debate generated by new discoveries. The typical,linear representationsof our evolutionary history arenot only incorrect,they areboring.Alles and Stevensonhave recentlyremarkedon this problemin a phenomenal article"Teaching human evolution"found in the May,2003 issue of TheAmerican BiologyTeacher. Using the model we propose in this paper,studentswill have an opportunity to explore a science with more questions than answers, without having to memorize versions of human ancestry. oversimplified confusion over the discoveriesthemUnfortunately, selves prevents many teachers from ever reaching this point with their students. To start, the names assigned -tonew fossils are often confusing to teachersand misunderstoodby students.

their skeletons,one may be hardpressed to find enough measurabledifferencesto distinguishall 50 species. Fur color, ovulatorycycles, behaviorpatterns, communication methods, and genetics do not fossilize. Therefore, even the slightest difference in skeletal morphology might constitute evidence for a new species. Tattersall studied lemur taxonomy for many years and now sees the same diversityin the human fossil record(Figure2). "The lemurs had told me a tale of diversity;and looking at the human fossil record, which [has] been
steadily expanding ... taught me the same thing about

hominids," Tattersallwrote in Monkey in the Mirror (2002). Tim White, a lumper,looks at the fossil record and a splitsees variationwithin a few species. Ian Tattersall, ter,sees diversityand recognizesmany differentspecies. To highlight the difference, consider the following example. One million years from now, would a future paleontologistbe able to tell that a 7'2"basketballplayer like Shaquille O'Neal was a member of the same species as a 5'2" actor like Danny DeVito?This is the challenge to a paleoanthropologist;trying to decide whethera new fossil discoveryrepresentsa new species, or a variantof an alreadyrecognizedanimal.

Lumpers & Splitters


there are two modes of thought in cateCurrently, who tend to gorizing human ancestors:the "lumpers," group fossils into relativelyfew species, and the "splitters,"who use measurabledifferencesas evidence for prolificspeciationin our past. Eachuses the same measurements,and the same fossils, but interpretthe results differently. Tim White, Professorof IntegrativeBiology at the uses the variationthat Universityof California, Berkeley, exists within a species today to understand the fossil record (Figure 1). This strategyhas landed him within the "lumper" category. "Right now, there is oversplittinggoing on by modern people inferringtoo many fossil species based on the differencesthey see between fossils, when the same differencesare seen among skulls froma single modern species, for example, chimpanzees, or gorillas, or humans,"says Dr.White. "Thisis a good indicationthat naming many of the newer fossils as differentspecies is not warranted."(White, 2003a) Regardednow as a "splitter," Ian Tattersall, Curator of the AnthropologyDivision of the AmericanMuseum of NaturalHistoryin New York,is influencedby his first researchinterest, lemurs. Fifty species of lemur reside on the island of Madagascar, and by looking only at
258 THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER, VOLUME 66, NO. 2004 4, APRIL

for Figures 1-3 The letters indicate where the fossil was found: AL - Afar Locality, Ethiopia BAR - Baringo district, Kenya BOU-VP - Bouri Vertebrate Paleontology, Ethiopia ER - East (Lake) Rudolf, Kenya KNM - Kenya National Museum (where fossil is on display) KP - Kanapoi, Kenya KT - Koro Toro, Chad OH - Olduvai Hominid, Tanzania SK - Swartkrans, South Africa Sts
-

Sterkfontein type site, South Africa

TM - Toros-Menalla, Chad WT
-

West (Lake) Turkana, Kenya

The number of the fossil found at that site follows: For instance, KNM-ER 3733 was the 3,733 specimen found in East Rudolf. It is at the Kenya National

Museum.

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sapiens ~~~*Cro-Magnon
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Tim White's Family Tree. Dr.Tim White isa professor ofIntegrative Biology attheUniversity ofCalifornia atBerkeley. His discoveries in
Ethiopia include fossils ofArdipithecus ramidus, Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus garhi, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens. Note that Dr.White groups thesame fossil hominids into fewer species and has a much more linear relationship than Dr.Tattersall.

INTERPRETING EVIDENCE 259

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*CroMagnon H. Sapiens
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Ian Tattersall's Family Tree. Dr.lIan Tattersall isCurator oftheDivision ofAnthropology Museum attheAmerican
of Natural History. His research interes ts include Hominid evolution, andthebiology andevolution oftheLemurs ofMadagascar.

continued on page 262 260 THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER, VOLUME 66,NO. 2004 4, APRIL

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InterpretingEvidence
frompage260 continued For a teacher,it is significantlymore valuable to explain to students why scientists disagree over the fossil,than to confuse species designationof a particular them with the names themselves.Takefor examplethe followingsituation.

interpretationsare based on the same measurements, using the same equipment, the same units, and the same well-agedfossils. These phylogenies are working hypotheses, designed to be tested and scrutinized, while flexible enough to be changed when new evidence is found. For students, the lesson from these familytreesshould not be the lines themselves,but why scientists draw the relationshipsthey do, and whythey disagree. Too often, the public and our students think that conflictinghypotheses undermine the validityof a scientific principle.Too often, we fail to educate our students that science is rooted in doubt-that challenge, skepticism,and debate are excitingcornerstonesof scientificthought.We fail to educateour students that science is drivenby questions,not answers.The scientific human evolutionareintellectuargumentssurrounding how scientistsdevelop demonstrate and allystimulating hypotheses from availableevidence. Next, we will outline a number of activitiesthat teacherscan employ in teachinghuman evolutionto theirstudents.Mostof the informationneeded to execute these activitiesis available at the Boston Museum of Science Web site:

Skull 1470
In August of 1972, Kenyanfossil hunter Bernard skull, known Ngeneo uneartheda 1.9 million-year-old 1470, from the easternshore of technicallyas KNM-ER Lake Turkana (Schwartz & Tattersall, 2003). RichardLeakeypublishedhis analysisof Paleontologist 1973) and aftermuch debate, this find in Nature (Leakey, Skull 1470 was assigned to the alreadyknown species, Homo habilis. Citing differences in cranial capacity (1470's cranialcapacityis 775 cc, while other H. habilis skulls are in the 550 cc range) and dental pattern, Alexeevpulled 1470 from Valerii Russiananthropologist (Johanson, H. habilisand renamedit Homorudolfensis 1996). In 2001, MeaveLeakeydiscovereda 3.5 millionyear-old skull in Kenya that she has designated platyops (flat-faced man of Kenya). Kenyanthropus Similaritiesin face morphology suggest that 1470's may be a distant descendantof species (H. rudolfensis) the newly named K. platyops(Figure 3) (Lieberman, 2001). This has led some paleontologists to rename Otherseven suggestthat rudolfensis. 1470,Kenyanthropus characteristics to be Skull 1470 retainsenoughprimitive (Wood, 2002). rudolfensis considered Australopithecus

www.mos.org/evolution.

Activity 1. Where Do You Draw the Lines?

in thispaper Printthe threefamily treespresented orgo to theMuseum Websiteanddownload of Science film Print them(on transparency the family treesthere. to yourstuif possible)andpresentthemas handouts in of dents. examine each detail. Of the thousands Now, So, what is 1470?Some still say it is a Homohabilis. 29 were to repchosen fossils that have been unearthed, And now, some call it Some say it is a Homorudolfensis. What hits." Thesearethe"greatest early humans. resent a Kenyanthropus rudolfensis,or even Australopithecus of notice about these differences do interpretations you This can be confusing to teachersand sturudolfensis. trees (overlay the fossil the family Compare record? dents alike.Ultimately though,the names do not matter. attenthemif using transparency film),payingcareful The creaturethat died and left what we call 1470 lived and tion to where and White differ, Leakey, Tattersall, 1.9 millionyearsago. No one arguesthat approximately where they agree. should fact.Whether 1470 was a habilisor a rudolfensis
not be the focus in a classroom.As TimWhite suggests, "Whyconfuse your students with this? Get them onto not names."(White,2003a) relationships,

Understanding Hominid Relationships


Many hominid species once existed. But, today, only one remains-us. How did this happen?Again,it depends on whom you ask. phyand MeaveLeakey's Tim White, Ian Tattersall, logenies, or family trees, all differ,even though their

as of July,2003 areup-to-date Thesephylogenies Website forthe most (see the www.mos.org/evolution more current trees)and areconsiderably phylogenetic accurate and interesting than the traditional textbook of the interpretations model.Theyillustrate alternative methodconspicuously humanfossilrecord, a teaching absentfrommostsciencetextbooks. Examinethe White model versus the Tattersall model. Whitedealsstrictly withtheknownfossilrecord
and does not speculate the existence of undiscovered hominid species. He also dismisses recent suggestions that the human familytreeis shaped more like a bush.

262 THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER, VOLUME 66, NO. 4, APRIL 2004

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|H.sapiens ~~~Cro-HMagnon p Hertgno~| *H

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Meave Leakey'sFamilyTree. Dr. Meave Leakey isa Research Associate inthePaleontology Department oftheNational
Museum ofKenya. Her work inKenya has revealed fossils ofAustralopithecus anamensis, Kenyanthropus platyops 40000), (KNM-WI and early fossils ofHomo. Note inthis family tree Dr. Leakey that does not draw lines atall and instead tentatively suggests relationships with ellipses.

INTERPRETING EVIDENCE 263

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the "bushy" nature Observations regarding of the earliesthominidfamily treefallinto thecategory of "X-files paleontology" (purespeculation-based unchecked on preconception-but byfossildata). data indicatethatthehominidfamily tree Present was neverparticularly "bushy," or speciose in the claims normalmammalian sense,despiterecent to thecontrary. 2003.) (T.White, ThePrimate FossilRecord, "bushy." He Tattersall's tree,however,is particularly recognizes five additional species, and two genera, Kenyanthropus, and Paranthropus, which White incorporates into Australopithecus. Also, Tattersallsuggests a more indirect relationship between currently recognized hominids. "No hominid fossil species that we know are likely to be the direct ancestorsof any other known species," Tattersallexplains. "In fact, recognizingancestors is a problem since they have to be primitivein all respects relativeto their descendents."(Tattersall, 2003). Recognizingthe uncertainlyof theirinterpretations, both Ian Tattersalland Tim White use dotted lines, instead of solid lines, in their familytrees.

MeaveLeakeytakes this caution a step further,and does not even use lines. She draws circlesaroundrelated species. "Thespecies enclosed in the ellipses are those that share featuresthat appear to link them. I do suggest relationships,but I do not give such detailed relationships as those who drawlines becauseI believethe lines imply that we know more about how things are related than we actually do." She continues, "We will never know exactlyhow any species relatesto anotherunless, by some amazing good fortune, we are ever able to extractDNA from these fossils."(Leakey,2003)

Activity 2. Why Do You Draw the Line?


Now, encourage your students to examine these phylogenies using real, measured evidence. They will learn the skills of inquiry, skepticism, and evidencebased understandingof a scientificconcept. Scientificsupply companieslike Carolinaand Bone Clones have model hominid skulls-reproductions of actualfinds.But,if you do not have the resourcesto purchase these skulls,you can printlife-sizedpicturesfrom the Internet (see referencesection for URLs), or purchase FromLucyto Language (Johanson, 1996), which

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264 THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY VOlUME TEACHER, 66, NO. 4, APRIll2004

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has hundreds of life-sized photographs of fossil fosinformationabout particular hominids. Referenced sils is also availableon the Boston Museum of Science Web site. Students examining their fossilized ancestors may consider which criteriathey would use to hypothesize relatedness.Perhaps they could look at the changing size of the skull diameterover time, or the angle of the face, molar size, browridge,or presence or absence of a sagittalcrest (see Web site for guidancein takingthese measurements). They may begin to understandthat all traitsdo not necessarilyevolvein step, or at a constant rate.Studentsmay also recognizethat certaincharacterwhen hypothesizingrelationistics may be informative ships and may use these data to construct their own phylogenetictrees.Comparetheir differentphylogenies to those of White, Tattersall,and Leakey;encourage debateand "Howdo you know?" questions.Thereis no answerkey to this activity.Rather,the objectiveof this exercise is to empower students to know that their hypotheses, if supported by evidence, are legitimate. Students may even leave your class with an understanding that challengeis healthy and necessaryto science.

1813 is panzee?How do we know that KNM-ER an adult?How do we know Kabwelived to be an old individual? * When did the last common ancestor between humans and theAfrican apes live?Whatdid it look like? Discoveries in just the last few years of show a and Ardipithecus Sahelanthropus, Orrorin, of ape fascinatingmorphologicalamalgamation and hominid-liketraits.Students will recognize that because we share a common ancestorwith the Africanapes, when dealingwith fossils from this time period (the late Miocene), it becomes exceedingly difficult to distinguish between a gorilla ancestor, chimpanzee ancestor, and a hominid. Students can also investigate how genetic comparisonsand paleontologicaldiscoveries inform this multidisciplinary investigation of human origins. * Wheredid our genus evolve? Encouragethe students to examineall finds dated 1.8 millionyears and older. Where were they all discovered? Students can then hypothesize when hominids first left Africaand perhaps even engage in the "Out of Africaversus MultiregionalEvolution" debate. How would we test whether humans evolved in Africa and spread worldwide, left Africain one migrationor many,or whether we evolved independently in different parts of Africa, Asia,and Europe? * Who were the Neanderthals? Compare a Neanderthal skull to an anatomicallymodern human skull. What differencesdo you notice? Competing hypotheses argue whether our with Neanderthals species mayhave interbred or not. How might DNA help inform us about the relationship between modern humans and Neanderthals?

Activity 3. "How Do We Know What We Know?" Questions


Using models of hominid discoveries,or the photographssuggestedin the previousactivity, encouragethe students to explore the specimens in more detail. Perhapsthe students could work in groups researching one of these questions and presenttheirfindingsto the class.Activities3 and 4 are also excellent opportunities to integratescience writing into your curriculum.We suggest six differentquestions that can be addressedby your students. * Did morethanone kindof hominid liveat thesame time? We arecurrently the only type of human on the planet, but has it always been this way? Carefulexaminationof the dates and morphologies of skulls KNM-ER 406 and KNM-ER 3733 provideinsightinto this question. * Can we tell whether a hominidis male orfemale? Scientists apply what they know about animals today to those that no longer exist. Have your studentsexaminethe famousLucyskeleton(A.L. 288-1), or the Black Skull (KNM-WT17000). What evidence helps scientists hypothesize the sex of these individuals? * How do scientistsknow how old theseindividuals werewhen theydied?How do we know that the TaungChildwas, in fact,a child and not a chim-

Activity 4. Incorporating New Discoveries


In the last three years, fossils that represent Sahelanthropus, Orrorin, andArdipithecus Kenyanthropus, were added to the human familytree.The oldest Homo sapienswas unearthed in Ethiopia (White, 2003c). A remarkableset of skulls, possibly representinga new species of early Homo, was discovered in the former Soviet Republicof Georgia(Vekua,2002). And a fossil from OlduvaiGorgein Tanzaniamay shed light on the 1470 puzzle mentioned earlier in this article (Blumenschine, 2003). Teachers have a wonderful opportunityto teach their students the very nature of science by presenting the latest fossil discoveriesand following the scientific debate that ensues. You might obtainthe primary journalarticlesof recentdiscoveries,

INTERPRETING EVIDENCE 265

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or Science, found often in Nature and haveyour students compare these peer-reviewed papers to newspaper or science magazineaccounts of new fossils. Understand that the interpretation of new discoveriesis alwayscontroversialand informed skepticismis necessary to the scientificprocess. Considerthe followingexample: New to Leakey'sphylogenyin 2001 was KNM-WT 40000, the defining fossil, or type specimen, of Kenyanthropus platyops. An ellipse connecting 40000 with 1470 implies the relationshipbetween those two skulls mentioned earlierin the article. Tattersall'sphylogeny reflects an agreementwith TimWhite'sdoes not. this interpretation. I havenowseen theoriginal"platyops" and I a crushed afarenfind thatit is mostprobably and neither sis cranium a newspecies nora newgenus,White said. I am lookingforward to therecovery of additional undistortedfossils of thisagefromKenyathatmightallow Dr.Leakey us to determine whether is right or wrongin herinterpretation. (T.White, Personalcorrespondence,2003) Leakeyadds ... I appreciate thatscience advances by testing previous theories and thatthemoreoutrageous and "unscientific" theories often more generate intensive research or disbyothers toprove provethesetheories. arethususefulin They andstimulatingfurther research. In generating a sense,by making a new Kenyanthropus genus,we weredoing just thatandpresenting an interpretation of ourobservations thatwas moreintotheevidence perhaps reading than theevidence justified. (M. Leakey,Personalcorrespondence,2003) We have presentedthree distinct familytrees from three well-respected scientists studying human origins. Thereis littledisagreement aboutthe ages of these fossils andwhethertheybelongin the hominidfamily, but interpretations of speciesdesignation arevariedand questions regarding which, if any, species are ancestralto modern humans remain.These questionscan only be answered with moreevidence.Failure to impressupon studentsthe methodby whichwe understand our past and the uncertaintiesthatstill remainunderminesthe scienceitself.

anotherskull fromDmanisi,Georgia; 22 additionalfossils from Orrorin, and severalmore unclassifiedfossils from South Africaall await publicationand interpretation. With these discoveries nearing publication, the phylogenies presented in this paper may be obsolete within the year. Such is the nature of science, so stay tuned, and keep those familytreesupdated.

Acknowledgments
I am gratefulto Drs. MeaveLeakey,Ian Tattersall, and Tim White for their contributionsto this paper. Their work is an inspiration to all bipedal primates. Additional thanks to Lucy Kirshner, Erin Henry, Michael Schiess, Bruce DeSilva, Gail Jennes, Randy Moore,and threeanonymousreviewers fortheirinsightful content and editorialsuggestions.

Web Site Addresses


www.mos.org/evolution The activitiessuggestedin this articleare available online at the Boston Museumof ScienceWeb site. www.becominghuman.ororg Multi-media site fromInstituteof HumanOrigins. www. mc.maricopa. edu/anthropology/hominid iourneyZindex.html Mesa Community College Department of Anthropology. Excellentphotos. www.mnh.si.edu/anthro/humanorigins/index.htm AmericanMuseumof NaturalHistorysite. www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/specimen.html Analysisof individualfossils. Excellentphotos. www.msu.edu/~heslipst/contents/ANP440/index.htm MichiganStateUniversitysite. Well organizedwith useful photographsand fossil descriptions.

References
Alles, D.L. & Stevenson, J.C. (2003). Teaching human evolution. AmericanBiology Teacher, 65(5), 333-339.

Thereis an excitingargumentin paleoanthropology Blumenschine, Rj. et al. (2003). Late Pliocene Homo and hominid land use from Western Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. right now, one that allows informedstudents to get to Science,299(February 21), 1217-1221. the very heart of science. Every year this argument evolves, with new fossil discoveries provoking more Brunet, M., et al. (2002). A new hominid from the upper questions than answers.As of the submission of this Miocene of Chad, Central Africa. Nature, 418(Julyl 1), 145paper, reports of a partial skeleton of Ardipithecus; 151.

266 THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER, VOLUME 66, NO. 4, APRIL 2004

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Darwin, C. (1859). On the Originof Speciesby Means of


Natural Selection. London: Murray.

Gibbons,A. (2002). In searchof the firsthominids.Science, 295(5558), 1214-1219. Y., Suwa, G., White, T. (2004). LateMiocene Haile-Selassie, teeth fromMiddleAwash,Ethiopia,and EarlyHominid dental evolution.Science, 303, 1503-1505.
Johanson, D. & Edgar, B. (1996). From Lucy to Language.

Free, New Resources For Teaching Genetics On National DNA Day April 30, 2004
National DNA Day commemoratesthe completion of the HumanGenome Projectin April 2003 and the discovery of DNA's double helix a half centuryago. The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) seeks to help you inspirethe next generationof scientists workingto understand the humangenome sequence and use it to benefit humanhealth.

Simon & SchusterEditions. New York: Leakey,M. (2003). Personalcorrespondence. Leakey, R.E. (1973). Evidence for an advanced PlioPleistocene hominid from east Rudolf, Kenya.Nature, 242, 447-50. Lieberman,D. (2001). Another face in our family tree. 410(6827), 419-420. Nature, Schwartz,J.H. & Tattersall,I. (2003). The Human Fossil New York: Wiley-Liss. Record. Shipman, P. (2002). Hunting the first hominid. American
Scientist, 90(1), 25-27. Tattersall, 1. (2002). Monkey in the Mirror. New York:

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James D. Watson,left, and FrancisCollins, right, at April 2003 DNA Day event.

UniversityPress. Cambridge White, T., Asfaw,B., DeGusta,D., Gilbert,H., Richards,G., Suwa,G., Howell,F.C.(2003). PleistoceneHomosapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature,423 (June 12), 742-747. Wood, B. (2002). Human origins:life at the top of the tree.
Treeof Life Symposium.New York:American Museum of

CelebrateNational DNA Day with your students by using these free resourcesavailable at

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In March2004, Tim White's team of paleoanthropologists announced the discoveryof 5.8 millionyear-oldhominid teeth in Ethiopia.As a result, it is its own ramidus kadabba argues thatArdipithecus Ardipithecus kadabba. species: separate Additionally,the authors suggest that the earliest known hominid fossils Ardipithecus, Orrorin,and Sahelanthropus may belong to a single genus: 2004). (Haile-Selassie, Ardipithecus

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