Discovery destroys myth of 'missing link' on the evolutionary ladder

The discovery of Toumai man – who lived about seven million years ago in what is now northern Chad – finally explodes the myth of there being a "missing link" in a ladder-like chain of direct descent from an ape ancestor to present-day Homo sapiens.

The discovery of Toumai man – who lived about seven million years ago in what is now northern Chad – finally explodes the myth of there being a "missing link" in a ladder-like chain of direct descent from an ape ancestor to present-day Homo sapiens.

Ever since Darwin first suggested that human beings had evolved from the apes, popular accounts of evolution have depicted man's journey as a series of smooth, linear transitions from a knuckle-walking hairy simian to upright "naked ape", complete with briefcase and rolled umbrella. But it is a notion that most modern Darwinists have long since consigned to the dustbin of evolutionary history. And Toumai man vindicates the view that human origins are a far more messy affair.

What we know is that chimps are our closest living relative, sharing as much as 98 per cent of our DNA. About 10 million years ago we also shared a common ancestor with chimps but what happened in the intervening years was not a straightforward divergence along two lines.

Instead of a simple "tree of life", there were many dead-ends and blind alleys with perhaps dozens or even hundreds of our ancestral cousins becoming extinct, including, perhaps, Toumai man himself.

As Bernard Wood, one of the world's leading anthropologists, writes today in Nature: "Here we have compelling evidence that our own origins are as complex and as difficult to trace as those of any other group of organisms."

The simple, linear model of human evolution with a step-wise change leading to new species with ever-more human characteristics has now been replaced by a more untidy or "bushy" model as successive ape-like creatures acquired different kinds of human-like attributes.

Professor Wood says: "This model predicts that because of the independent acquisition of similar shared characters, key hominid adaptations such as bipedalism, manual dexterity and a large brain are likely to have evolved more than once."

Toumai man illustrates the difficulties of tracing man's precise lineage. "Quite simply, a hominid of this age should only just be beginning to show signs of being a hominid. It should not have a face of a hominid less than one-third of its geological age," he says.

Further finds may show that the world was once home to ape-like creatures, some with remarkably human attributes. What may never be clear is why almost all of them became extinct, allowing one of their number to dominate the planet.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy