Saturday, February 9, 2013

Old family portrait

In my blog post of 22 October 2011 entitled What science is saying [display], I spoke of a fabulous book for young and old alike: The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins. And I borrowed a couple of Dave McKean's wonderful depictions of our prehistoric ancestors. Now, those illustrations were largely figments of the artist's imagination. Today, we are offered a considerably more authoritative portrait of an immensely archaic granddaddy:

Illustration by Carl Buell

This fellow is the outcome of a lengthy study of primeval mammalian genealogy some 66 million years ago. The creature in the portrait was about the size of a rat, and it weighed about a quarter of a kilogram. Like the dormice that I mentioned in my blog post of 31 December 2012 entitled Walnut war [display], it had a bushy tail. Its scientific name is Protungulatum donnae, but I'll refer to him here as Adam.

It's important to understand that the scientists at Stony Brook University (Long Island, New York) who've just presented a picture of Adam to his living descendants did not dig him up out of the ground, as if he were a run-of-the-mill monarch in search of a horse. Nobody has ever set eyes upon an actual fossil of this "first ungulate" (hoofed beast). Instead, Adam was created virtually on the basis of a whole set of fossil specimens and evolutionary facts.

Visual data in my blog post of the day before yesterday entitled Wolf territory [display] indicates the presence of a furry hoof attached to the extremity of the bone that Fitzroy was gnawing. I wondered for a moment or two whether my dog might have unearthed a specimen of a modern descendant of Adam, but I soon realized that Fitzroy's beast was much larger than a rat. So, I was obliged to rule out the likelihood that my dog had got involved in paleontology.

Adam is looked upon as humanity's most recent common ancestor with other mammals. The scientists say he ate insects. His long furry dormouse-like tail makes me wonder if he didn't appreciate walnuts, too. One thing about Adam's appetite for fruit is certain. As revealed in a celebrated book of archaic wisdom, he acquired a taste for apples. And that's where everything got totally screwed up for the rest of eternity.

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