"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Thursday, January 12, 2006
A South African anthropologist said Thursday his research into the death nearly 2 million years ago of an ape-man shows human ancestors were hunted by birds.
"These types of discoveries give us real insight into the past lives of these human ancestors, the world they lived in and the things they feared," Lee Berger, a paleo-anthropologist at Johannesburg's University of Witwatersrand, said as he presented his conclusions about a mystery that has been debated since the remains of the possible human ancestor known as the Taung child were discovered in 1924....
Researchers had speculated the Taung child was killed by a leopard or saber-toothed feline. But 10 years ago, Berger and fellow researcher Ron Clarke submitted the theory the hunter was a large predatory bird, based on the fact most of the other fossils found at the same site were small monkeys that showed signs of having been killed by a predatory bird.
You say you want gory details? We got 'em!
Five months ago, Berger read an Ohio State University study of the hunting abilities of modern eagles in West Africa believed similar to predatory birds of the Taung child's era.
The Ohio State study determined that eagles would swoop down, pierce monkey skulls with their thumb-like back talons, then hover while their prey died before returning to tear at the skull. Examination of thousands of monkey remains produced a pattern of damage done by birds, including holes and ragged cuts in the shallow bones behind the eye sockets.
Berger went back to the Taung skull, and found traces of the ragged cuts behind the eye sockets. He said none of the researchers who had for decades been debating how the child died had noticed the eye socket damage before.
For some reason, I'm thinking of that Far Side cartoon that shows a birds'-eye view of pedestrians, each with a target painted on the top of the head. That, and the "lifelike monkey skull" I received as a white elephant gift at a New Year's party this year.
You know, it's a scary place inside my mind. I'd avoid it if I were you.
U win the "I didn't know that!" award for the day. U always were good for the unusual and macabre, yet real.