Australopithecus sediba: can we stop calling it a ‘missing link?
Hurrah! A science journalist who calls out using the term “Missing Link”. All fossils are transitional, including the one your body might someday turn into.
What it is not, however, is a “missing link”.
It’s a term that many newspapers, including this one, because it is so recognisable and freighted with a century and a half of meaning. It’s also used by creationists and other people ignorant of evolutionary biology to suggest that the fossil record shows gaps. It’s just a shame it’s complete nonsense.
The problem is that it implies that something is missing. I suppose in one sense something is: the fossils of 99.99999 per cent of all the animals and plants that have ever lived. But in the specific sense of “a fossil that is neither entirely an ape nor entirely a human but somewhere between the two”, there are lots and lots. Wikipedia, the journalist’s friend, has a wonderful list of so-called “transitional fossils” (my favourite is Tiktaalik, the halfway house between a fish and an amphibian), and in its “Human evolution” section, it lists:
• Ardipithecus, “Intermediate between the last common ancestor of chimps and humans, and the australopithecines”
• Australopithecus, “Intermediate between extinct quadrupedal and bipedal apes. While the relationship between some species are being revised, Australopithecus afarensis is considered to be, by most experts, the ancestor to all later hominids.”
• Homo habilis, “Perfect intermediate between early hominids and later humans, possibly ancestral to modern humans.”
• Homo erectus, “Ancestral to modern humans and neanderthals.”