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Friday Nugget Blogging

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“Mom, do we know any ancestors of ours who were monkeys?”

“No, son. But I do know a hill giant.”

Actually, this discussion came up after the boy and I watched the “Alien From Earth” documentary on PBS, which details the recent discovery of hobbit-size adult human skeletons in Indonesia. The documentary details how different the hobbits were physiologically from humans, particularly in the wrists and in the shape and size of the little hobbitish brain, suggesting they were a completely different hominid species and opening questions not only about how they got here but also about the evolution of humans.

Particularly given Dan Nexon’s recent admonishment of Dan Drezner over his utterly indefensible marginalization of hobbits in TIPZ, I thought this all well worth mentioning.

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  • Left_Wing_Fox

    That’s always one of those pedantic areas that trips up evolution discussions. Humans and monkeys are modern apes, we all descended from a primitive ape (or ape-like) species. Modern monkeys are cousins, not ancestors.

    • chris

      Humans and monkeys are modern apes

      I don’t think you meant to type this, if you’re going to be all pedantically cladistic and stuff.

      Maybe “humans and chimpanzees are modern apes”, etc.?

      Anyway, I think it’s important to keep in perspective that the individuals are what they are; both species and higher-level taxa are labels we impose because we find them convenient. There’s no reason we shouldn’t use a paraphyletic category if we feel like it, although it is a good idea to keep in mind that it is paraphyletic. (Of course, if you’re going to “fix” all the paraphyletic categories by including the excluded members, then the “correct” answer to the child’s question is “All of them, dear. Now eat your banana.”)

      It is still true that modern monkeys are not ancestors to modern humans, though.

      • Left_Wing_Fox

        Ah yeah. Oops.That’s exactly the sort of pedantic cladistics I keep seeing confused, and I just did it myself. =/

    • DrDick

      Humans are African great apes, along with Chimpanzees and Bonobos (our closest relatives), as well as gorillas. Our relationship to the Asian apes is rather more distant and there is a considerable separation since our last common ancestor with monkeys.

  • When I was in college, a bunch of engineering students had an ongoing bridge game which I watched from time to time. One of the expressions they used was “you live in trees.” which was a derivation from “you bid like an ape.”

    so one answer might be “well some of us have wondered about your uncle x”

  • rea

    I don’t know–are you related to the Bush family?

  • Hogan

    “Only on your father’s side.”

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