Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Scans Reveal Our Fishy Ancestry

By John Long

A synchrotron scan of a 400 million-year-old fish has revealed how far back our own facial structures evolved, and a 28 million-year-old toothed whale fossil has revealed the origins of echolocation in modern whales.

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In this modern age of rapid technological breakthroughs, what real currency does palaeontology still have in our lives? Why should I bother reporting on old dead things that seemingly have no real meaning in today’s society?

Recently I addressed a gathering of about 100 members of a well-known museum in Sydney. My talk was about exciting new fossil discoveries that elucidate the deep origins of the human body plan, largely based on a slew of recent spectacular fossil finds of early fishes that made headlines around the world.

I reminded the audience that the ancient Greeks saw scientific discovery as a major component of philosophy, as significant new discoveries about nature helped them to live better lives and appreciate our place in the world. Similarly, the study of ancient life offers our own lives a unique perspective that is central to our understanding of where we have come from as a species, and where we, and the Earth’s ecosystems, might be heading in the future.

Knowledge of our evolutionary distant ancestry gives philosophical meaning to the fact that we are all interconnected to every other form of life, and that all species, whether animal, plant, fungi or bacteria, share some common DNA. We have evolved from common ancestry way back in time. Palaeontology holds real value in revealing how the past experiments in life and the causes of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.