Thursday, July 30, 2009

Intermediate Fossils

In keeping with his current trend towards accentuating the positive Richard Dawkins clearly lays out the logic of evolution while explaining how the whale's morphology changed over millions of generations. This is probably the most clear-cut example of evolution on display in the fossil record but certainly not the only one.

When I was a teenager I visited my sister who was working for the US geological survey in Washington, DC. It was the first time I'd been the Smithsonian museum of natural history. Though I rushed through to see as many exhibits as possible I paused in the "Ocean Hall" underneath a suspended skeleton of a modern whale. It was standing here that I had the evolutionary epiphany. As I stared up at the tiny hip bones suspended by metal museum cables painted back like invisible stage hands I realized that these were vestiges of long gone hind legs. Every whale living on earth has these bones suspended in cartilage doing nothing but reminding the curious about their storied ancestry.

By the power of the web anyone can now go and stand where I stood as a teenager and contemplate the reasons for those museum cables. In fact you can now virtually peruse the whole museum complete with online information kiosks!

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