More simians in the family tree

Published:

2006, The Washington Post

So you think dating is too complicated these days, probably more difficult than its ever been before. Well, dont try telling that to the cave men, or whatever it was that people (assuming they actually were people) called themselves about 5 million years ago. It appears that back then they may have had a good deal more to worry about than a little confusion over genders, roles, orientations, proclivities and the other things that now fill the advice columns. For, according to recent research, there was a period when humans and chimpanzees (who increasingly appear to be more alike than either would care to admit) had involvements that we might today call unnatural, though somehow that doesnt seem quite the right word.

As The Washington Post reported last week: According to the new theory, chimps and humans shared a common apelike ancestor much more recently than was thought. Furthermore, when the two emerging species split from each other, it was not a clean break. Some members of the two groups seem to have interbred about 1.2 million years after they first diverged before going their separate ways for good.

This genetic research by scientists from MIT and Harvard raises interesting questions: about whether we are descended from hybrids, about the nature of species, about the very fundamentals of evolution. It also, we think, pretty much ensures that The Flintstones will never again be revived. After all, who wants to see a scene in which Wilma calls upstairs:

Dear, your prom date is here. Hes, uh, hanging from the doorjamb.

OK, Mom, offer him a banana and tell him Ill be right down.

We give it one episode at best.

You may ask, by the way, what does intelligent design have to do with all this? Exactly. Whats intelligent about a species whose young blow a years pay from their after-school jobs on a block-long limousine to transport them three-quarters of a mile to a dance theyve spent the past three months worrying about and cant wait to leave? Its enough to make a chimp scratch his head.

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