Wednesday, February 16, 2011

evolution and revolution part 2

"Equally apt was the release Friday of the results of research into the metatarsals found among Australopithecus afarensis bones in Hadar, Ethiopia. The metatarsal is a long bone connecting human toes to the base of human feet. You are probably aware of the discoveries of both hominids called Lucy and Lucy’s Baby, but I’m going to quote myself in refreshing your memories in explaining the importance of their discoveries. This is from a 2008 sermon of mine about the history of walking:

"The new findings of the research published in the journal Science report that the feet of Australopithecus afarensis were similar to our own. There were no feet bones uncovered either with Lucy or with Selam so scientists were uncertain, as Solnit points out, as to whether our ancestors’ feet were still accustomed to clinging to tree branches. The research team, led by integrative anatomist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri, discovered by examining the metatarsals, which predate Lucy and Selam by multiple millions of years, that the hominids 'were fully humanlike and committed to life on the ground.'

"The metatarsal itself was stiff and arched, like our own, and not flexible like an ape’s. Ape metatarsals are spongiform to allow their feet to clutch like our hands do when their prehensile toes grabbed branches. Ward writes, 'The development of arched feet was a fundamental shift toward the human condition, because it meant giving up the ability to use the big toe for grasping branches, signaling that our ancestors had finally abandoned life in the trees in favor of life on the ground.'

"Like the forebears of Australopithecus aferensis, the Egyptians are standing and walking on unsteady feet accustomed to something different. The progenitors of Lucy and Selam who were themselves our progenitors had made the fateful decision at some point to leave the shelter of trees and step out into the wide, hostile, unknown world. Similarly, the people of Egypt at some point realized they needed to leave the shelter of a political system many of them had known all their lives to step out into the wide, hostile unknowable result of changing that system. Their decision, I’m certain, is no less fateful. There is no little consequence in both cases: in our ancestors’ case, there was the awful certainty of death by long-teethed predators on the savannah. No less, for the people of Egypt, there is the uncertainty of chaos, ruled now by the Egyptian military—in which, I should note, many of them have the amount of confidence many of us would have in our own military, for good and for bad—but in the near future by whatever strong political faction, secular, religious, civilian or military or a combination, might be strongest. Fox News, for instance, fans fears that they will be eaten up by a government harnessed to the worst elements of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and while that’s as unlikely as a US government composed of members of Christian Identity militias and the Ku Klux Klan, it remains a possibility all the same."

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