Out of the Earth, Out of the Blue

Greg Laden reports on a hominid fossil "recovered from the seabed near Taiwan" which reveals new levels of dental diversity among proto-humans and may qualify as a new species. Greg says the specimen known as Penghu "is yet another indicator that multiple different hominids lived on the Earth at the same time after the rise of Homo erectus." But why was it located underwater? In another example of what lies beneath, Dr. Dolittle marvels at "an unexpected find and very exciting moment for researchers;" the discovery of small fish and invertebrates thriving below 740 meters of ice near the coast of Antarctica. Exactly how these animals survive in the stark ecosystem has yet to be determined. Meanwhile, on Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel reflects on the history of surprising physics discoveries. He provides as an example the discovery of the muon in 1936, a subatomic particle that no one was even looking for. Chad writes, "The eminently quotable I.I. Rabi famously responded to the news by asking 'Who ordered that?'" No one, but we'll take it.


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A new early human fossil has been reported, recovered from the seabed near Taiwan. We are calling it Penghu 1. Simply put, it is the lower right jaw of a hominid (hominine) that most resembles either a form of Homo erectus or Archaic Homo sapiens (kin to, but not, Neanderthal). Teeth are fairly…
Over at Curious Wavefunction, Ashutosh Jogalekar offers a list of great surprising results in physics. This is fairly comprehensive, but leaves out one of my favorites, which is the discovery of the muon. Muons are particles like electrons, but a couple hundred times heavier. When they were first…
Modern science stands on the shoulders of giants, as well as average humans, dwarves and elves, ancient civilizations, and all the bones of the dead—forgotten and otherwise. But sometimes you have to start a new branch of science from scratch. On Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel continues his count…
A fish found swimming under 740 meters of ice. Credit: Reed Scherer (NIU) An unexpected find and very exciting moment for researchers exploring what lies beneath 740 meters of ice in Antarctica...fish! An amazing find given the perpetual darkness and cold. In an expedition sponsored by the…

Speaking of dental history, some of my best friends and golf buddies are dentists. I’ll have to ask them some time what theories they have, if any, on how teeth evolved.

I suppose first you’d have to evolve a mouth, though I’m not sure how the creature would have sustained itself directly before and after getting the mouth. Then how the creature dealt with hard food before getting the teeth. Maybe the teeth evolved in response to the creature wishing it could chomp on harder things. But first the jaw bones would have to evolve, and have the right kind of hinges so they’d go up and down in just the right way. Then the jaws would be ready for the teeth to evolve and implant their roots in the jawbone. Then the teeth would evolve into different shapes for different purposes and position themselves in the right spots with the molars in back and the canines towards the front and whatever the others are called in the very front. People probably wouldn’t guess this if asked, but teeth are the hardest substance in your body! And each tooth is comprised of different layers - enamel, dentin, cementum, and pulp. And let’s not forget the evolution of that peculiar flesh that wraps it all up - the gums. But the teeth and mouth are no good without the all-important multipurpose tongue, the esophagus, etc.

But given that teeth can get cavities and can go haywire positionally - and so require braces or other orthodontia – maybe even an atheist would say this is evidence that teeth are not designed or at least are poorly designed and thus your God isn’t much of a God because he’s obviously not an intelligent designer. Also, I think I’ve heard about people who made the same “poorly designed” argument about the esophagus, because you use the same pipe for breathing and eating and so could choke on your food and die. I guess they never heard of the epiglottis.

Anyway, the evolution of teeth provides a lot for one to chew on.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 11 Feb 2015 #permalink

But first the jaw bones would have to evolve, and have the right kind of hinges so they’d go up and down in just the right way. Then the jaws would be ready for the teeth to evolve and implant their roots in the jawbone.

This is reasonable speculation, and it makes sense. But it's pretty much completely backwards. There's a nice outline of the evolution of teeth in Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish.