New -- December 15, 2003
ANNALS OF EARTH
© 1995, 2003 Dan Sewell Ward
Episode III -- The Evolution and/or Creation of Life
4.6 Billion B.C.E. Round One of the Celestial Battle between Nibiru, the Challenger, and Tiamat, the raining (“watery monster”) Champion. Debris from this battle, in the form we now encounter as meteorites, was strewn about without any apparent reason, with some of it still extant after billions of years and occasionally dropping into our atmosphere more or less unexpectedly. These meteorites (the ones who have dropped into our backyards) have been radiocarbon dated to an age of 4.5 to 4.7 billion years (pretty much in line with other sources of dating Round One). Importantly, these same meteorites were found to contain carbonaceous chondrites rich in amino acids and at least three of the four nucleotides required to make up DNA and/or RNA, those ingredients essential for life as we know it.
c. 4.0 Billion B.C.E. Round Two. In the return engagement of the planetary rivalry between Nibiru and Tiamat, the Earth is created, while at the same time its Moon (formerly known as Kingu), is pretty much obliterated by the resulting celestial bombardment. Life seems to have been excluded from the Moon, but rather quickly appears on Earth. In this regard, “life” is defined as the ability to absorb nutrients (of any kind) and to replicate (not just to exist). But why on Earth did life appear?
As it turns out, it’s not altogether clear how Life on Earth came about. Evolutionary Theory certainly does not explain how life began, even if it has been occasionally successful in explaining how life on Earth evolved all the way from the earliest, one-celled creatures to Homo sapiens. (Of course, evolutionary theory has not been all that successful in explaining a whole host of life style innovations scattered about in the geologic and anthropologic records, but it is the reigning theory and we have to at least mention it in passing. Then later on we’ll talk about complexity and the edge of chaos, one of the current contenders for explaining how we Earthians find ourselves in our current chaotic condition.)
But such digressions, however brief, do not answer the question of how life began on Earth. Clearly the evidence suggests that life currently exists on Earth. (Not necessarily intelligent life, but at the very least, an exceptional ability to reproduce.) After that, the theories get a bit more sticky.
An important point is that the Earth has a relative abundance of elements that does not reflect the same combinations in other part of the solar system and the universe. For this and other reasons, it is believed by some scientists that the present earthly atmosphere is not Earth’s original one. Evidence also exists to suggest that the Earth experienced a “thermal episode” sometime around the period from 4.0 to 3.8 billion years ago. By and large, most scientists now believe that Earth’s atmosphere was reconstituted initially from the gases spewed out by the volcanic convulsions of the Earth in its birth pangs.
Not surprisingly (at least, to some of us), the Sumerian Enuma elish describes the gushing lava as Tiamat’s “spittle” and places the volcanic activity prior to the formation of the atmosphere, the oceans, and the continents. As clouds thrown up by these eruptions shielded the Earth and it began to cool, the vaporized water condensed and came down in torrential rains. Oxidation of rocks and minerals provided the first reservoir of higher levels of oxygen on Earth; and eventually, according to theory, life began to take shape. Scientific theory, for example, suggests that plant life added both oxygen and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and with the aid of bacteria started the nitrogen cycle. But where did the plants, and the bacteria, come from? Ah yes, the initial-most conditions!
Modern science has been able to “duplicate” conditions on a very early Earth -- a primordial, watery “soup” subjected to electrical sparks (in lieu of primordial lightning bolts) -- and in carefully controlled experiments, has been able to make organic compounds (life) from inorganic elements (the latter being essentially the proverbial rock pile). They have also learned how the organic compounds can organize themselves into a replicating cell, complete with the all-important ability to reproduce. Yea, sex! This latter feat can be accomplished by means of a “made of clay” hypothesis (which you must admit, sounds a bit kinky).
In this clever scenario, researchers have found that the nickel in certain clays selectively hold onto the twenty kinds of amino acids that are common to all living things on Earth (while ignoring any other amino acids not common to these same life forms). Meanwhile traces of zinc in the same clay help link together the nucleotides, which results in a compound analogous to a crucial enzyme (called DNA-polymerase) that links pieces of genetic material in all living cells.
In effect, the clay has the two basic properties essential to life: (1) the capacity to store, and (2) the ability to transfer energy. In the primordial conditions, according to theory, clays might have acted as chemical laboratories where inorganic raw materials were processed into more complex molecules. Funny enough, the ability of the clays to trap and transmit energy was due to defects in the clay’s microstructure -- essentially “mistakes” in the formation of clay crystals. According to one scientist, “It would seem that an accumulation of chemical mistakes led to life on Earth.” Somehow, this rings true. On the other hand, I’ve got some good news for modern science theories, and some bad news.
The good news is that the combined murky-soup and life-from-clay theories combine rather nicely. The bad news is that in the case of the Earth, a problem of timing occurs. (Essentially all problems encountered in life are timing problems -- more on this later.) For the question is not can it happen (as described by the murky-life-from-clay-soup theory), but how did it happen here on Earth?
For life as we have it on Earth to happen, two basic molecules are necessary: Proteins, which perform all the complex metabolic functions of living cells; and nucleic acids, which carry the genetic code and issue the instruction for the cells’ processes. Both function within a unit called a cell -- a cell capable of triggering the replication not only of itself but of the whole animal of which the single cell is but a minuscule component. In order to become proteins, amino acids must form long and complex chains. In the cell they perform this task according to instructions stored in one of the nucleic acids (DNA -- deoxyribonucleic acid) and transmitted by another nucleic acid (RNA—ribonucleic acid).
Well... maybe. But an alternative theory to the spontaneous appearance of life on Earth (the previous theories which just don’t quite make it), is the “With-a-little-help-from-our-extraterrestrial-friends” theory.
3.8 Billion B.C.E. Life appears on Earth. Or possibly, Life arrives on Earth.
Sediments found off the coast of Greenland bear chemical traces that indicate the existence of photosynthesis as early as 3.8 billion years ago. Based on this and other evidence, Norman Sleep of Stanford University [Nature, November 8, 1989] concluded that the “window of time” when life on Earth began was just the 200 million years between 4.0 and 3.8 billion years ago. “Everything alive today evolved from organisms that originated within that Window of Time.”
Other scientists have concluded that no matter how life began on Earth, it did so about 4.0 billion years ago, and probably by some “catastrophic event”. Nobel prize winner Manfred Eigen [Science, May 12, 1989] concluded that a primordial gene appeared 3.89 billion years ago (plus of minus 600 million), and “this would be possible only in the case of an extraterrestrial origin”. Lynn Margulis has raised the same point when she asked the question: “Did our organic matter originate in interstellar space?”
Nobel Laureate Sir Francis Crick [Icarus, vol 19] in a paper titled “Directed Panspermia” went a step further when he concluded that the first organisms or spores came from an extraterrestrial source not by chance, but as “the deliberate activity of an extraterrestrial society”. [emphasis added] [Keep in mind that while our Solar System dates back only 4.6 billion years, the universe may have an age of 12 to 15 billion years, allowing for the appearance of life elsewhere at a much more leisurely pace than the shotgun approach on earth.]
The essence of these ideas is that the murky-soup or life-from-clay hypotheses are not the most likely reason for life on Earth (although the methods would still have been feasible if there had been more time and energy). The concept of an extraterrestrial source for life on Earth relies on several concepts of “celestial emissaries”: comets, meteors, meteorites, and impacting asteroids [all or most of which may have been derived from the collision of Tiamat and Nibiru!].
Sir Fred Hoyle [New Scientist, 11-17-77] has said: “about four billion years ago life arrived on a comet.” Lynn Margulis [as reported in Newsweek, 10-2-89] noted that many organisms, when faced with harsh conditions, “release tough little packages (“Propagules”) that carry genetic material into more hospitable surroundings.” The Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras, about 500 B.C., believed that the “seeds of life” swarm through the universe, ready to sprout and create life wherever a proper environment is found.
3.75 Billion B.C.E. First appearance of “archaeo-bacteria”, dated to between 3.5 and 4.0 billion years ago. Bacteria appears to have preceded algae and other primeval forms of life.
3.568 Billion B.C.E. The end of Precambrian I. Geologic Eras are subdivided into Periods, based primarily on the sequence of sedimentary rocks (and their contents of fossils, etcetera). Precambrian I is assumed to have begun 4.0 billion years ago. The first notable change in the sedimentary sequence occurs approximately 0.5 billion years later. The date given above as the heading for the beginning of Precambrian II, however, is based on another, somewhat esoteric calculation.
The Hindu tradition dates things in the long term on the basis of Yugas. These Yugas come in four sizes:
The sequence of the four Ages totals 4,320,000 years and is called a Caturyuga (Great Yuga). The interesting feature is that a sequencing of 100 Caturyugas (equal to 432 million years each) roughly follows the sedimentary rock record of the Precambrian Era rather closely. For example, in terms of millions of years ago:
Precambrian Periods* -- 4000 3500 3130 2680 ???? 1800 1420 ???? 620
100 Caturyugas -- 4000 3568 3136 2704 2272 1840 1408 976 544
(* from Encyclopedia Britannica, based on variations in rock strata)
This correlation of an apparent connection between the interval of 432 million years and the Precambrian strata is intriguing to say the least. And if we recall the earlier mention of a cyclical nature of the Earth’s continents coming together for its periodic reunion (Episode II), we might note that 432 million might easily be the precise cycle for the continents assembling into a single landmass (and in the process accomplishing a great deal of mountain building and the subsequent laying down of new strata in the sedimentary geologic record). It’s noteworthy that the super continent of Rodinia is dated circa 750 million years ago, and the subsequent Pangaea about 300 million years ago, an obvious difference of 450 million years. That’s close enough to 432 million years to make one wonder! (See below.)
Incidentally, keep in mind (i.e. write it down, memorize it, repeat it over and over until it becomes second nature to you, tell your friends and have them remind you, record it on a repeating play CD... or whatever):
The number of years for a single Yuga is 432,000.
This number will come in handy later (like in future Episodes and in Nines). In the interim, please note that:
The latter number corresponds to 100 Great Years, where a Great Year is the time for the Earth’s poles to precess in a complete circle (known technically as the Precession of the Equinoxes). 500 of the precessional years equals 12,960,000 years, and is known as a Great Cycle. A thousand of these mothers, roughly 26 million years (25.92) is something else again, and will be discussed forthwith, once we get into the mass extinctions of various life species. Isn’t arithmetic just wonderful!!
Meanwhile, fossil remains of algae found in Australia have been dated to 3.5 billion years ago. Other fossil remains, found in 1977 in South Africa have been dated to between 3.1 and 3.4 billion years ago. These algae were organisms already possessing both amino acids and complex nuclei acids -- indicating not the beginning of life on Earth, but an already advanced stage of it.
Finally, for the most part, the Early Precambrian (aka the Archean Period) was characterized by crust formed on a molten Earth and a very disturbed crystalline rock strata. (Psychotic rock? Isn't that the name of some Reggae group?)
3.136 Billion B.C.E. Beginning of Precambrian III. A continuation of the mind-numbing, eon-after-eon, biological simplicity. Or as the media might phrase it: a minimal news day.
2.704 Billion B.C.E. Beginning of Precambrian IV. The first appearance of the song, “On the two billionth, seven hundred and fourth millionth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: More algae!”
2.272 Billion B.C.E. Beginning of Precambrian V. First lawsuit, based on conflicting claims to the royalty rights to the song, “On the two billionth...”.
1.840 Billion B.C.E. Finally! The Green Revolution Begins! It’s time for Precambrian VI! Coincident with this latest version of Precambrian Era madcap antics, is the appearance of a variety of metamorphosed sedimentary rocks, lava flows and granite. This epoch also marks the beginning of the Late Precambrian, also known as the Algonkian Period.
For more complex lifeforms to evolve (i.e., lifeforms a bit more exciting than the mind-numbing oceanic algae which has ruled for some two billion years), oxygen is needed. This oxygen became available only after algae or proto-algae began to spread upon the dry land. Essentially, it was time for “everybody out of the pool” (to which only a few intrepid algae responded). But for these adventuresome green plant-like forms to utilize and process oxygen, they needed an environment of rocks containing iron with which to “bind” the oxygen. Without this critical ingredient, these algae would have been destroyed by oxidation; free oxygen still being a poison to these life forms. But there it was, something on the order of two billion years ago, “green herbage” beginning to increase the air’s oxygen. In this regard, it is extremely important to note that the covering of the lands with green algae had to precede the emergence of maritime life (maritime life other than the floating green scum).
The Bible says the same thing (which when you think about it, is really quite remarkable in that the Bible is being used in this clever way to substantiate evolutionary theory!). For example, according to Genesis 1: 11-23, green herbage was created on Day Three, but maritime life not until Day Five.
This was the all important evolution from asexual reproduction to sexual reproduction. But before “creatures” could appear (in the water, air or dry land), Earth had to set the pattern of the biological clocks that underlie the life cycles of all living forms on earth. In effect we had to have the cycles of light and darkness. This, the Bible knocked out on the Fourth Day events, and thereby maintained its scientific accuracy. It also filled a gap of about 1.3 billion years -- from about 1.8 billion years to some 544 million years ago -- about which little is known otherwise because of the paucity of geological and fossil data.
1.408 Billion B.C.E. Precambrian VII begins. The algae are now doing their mind-numbing imitation of “Boredom on the Orient Express” for an audience still green behind their pseudo-gills.
0.976 Billion B.C.E. Precambrian VIII begins with its only claim to fame being the fact that this is the last Precambrian epoch, and thus the last date given in these Annals in billions of years!
Actually, there was, in fact, an event of some importance in this epoch. For three billion years, from soon after the Earth cooled sufficiently to the current period, the highest form of life was the single cell. A degree of complexity then emerged about a billion years ago, when cells developed packaged nuclei which included mitochondria DNA.
The mitochondria were (and continue to be) cellular organelles that convert food into a form of energy that the rest of the cell could use. Unlike the DNA of the nucleus, which form bundles of long fibers, each consisting of a protein-coated double helix, the mitochondrial DNA come in small, two-strand rings. And whereas nuclear DNA encode an estimated 100,000 genes (most of the information needed, for example, to make a human being) mitochondrial DNA encodes only 37 genes. Nevertheless, in its own way, this was a momentous occasion.
[Hint: You may also want to memorize the word, mitochondria, its meaning, and your best guess on how to pronounce it. The subject of mitochondria DNA will turn out to be very important (not to mention highly controversial) when we arrive (in a future Episode and elsewhere in the Halexandria website) on the subject of the First Lady Eve. By the way, “Did you hear the one about Eve and the traveling mitochondria DNA?”]
544 Million B.C.E. (Seems just like yesterday.) Following the biological simplicity of the Precambrian Era, the Earth was suddenly beset with the initiation of the Paleozoic Era (“Old Life Era”). From a simplistic viewpoint (such as Encyclopedia Britannica) it was a period of large faunas of marine invertebrates. For the more adventuresome, it was the ultimate Party Time!!
At the outset of the Cambrian Period (the first, and in some ways, the most notable Period of the Paleozoic Era), the majority party was unquestionably the Trilobites. For of all the wondrous delights of this bygone era, the Cambrian’s most famous residents were a species which blanketed the fossil records of some 500 million years ago with a vengeance (in other words, they was everwhere!). As marine anthropods, these little jewels of multi-cellular innovation had a body divided by two furrows into three parts. Their fossils are legion! But more than any other factor of their existence, the most noteworthy was they were so successful in being fruitful, multiplying and subduing the Earth that they figured they were the end-all in evolution.
Can you believe it? They actually had the balls to think they were the final product, the ultimate glorification of all previous evolutionary tracks. Imagine! [Actually, they didn’t actually have any balls at all -- soccer and the like being roughly an eon or so in the future.]
The extensive fossil record left behind by Trilobites (and the minority party, the brachiopods) is due in part to the fact that shallow seas covered large parts of the continents -- obviously for the convenience of later anthropologists who would not want to go to any real depths (particularly oceanic ones) in order to unearth fossils. The evidence is also clear that the Trilobites believed the history we have already related in these Annals, but thought that the climax of the drama was when the Trilobites appeared. We, of course, know that creation continued with the evolution of vertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and finally man.
Of course, “finally man” might not be entirely accurate -- there just might be more creation to come. Just don’t tell that to a Trilobite (assuming you could find an alive one, who was intellectually open to the idea). [Incidentally, there is apparently no relationship between Trilobites and the small, furry creatures of the same approximate name encountered in Star Trek episodes.]
Even more discouraging to the Trilobite party was the fact that while they had a voting majority in all existing houses, they were, in fact, not the only game in town. There were innumerable other species. In fact, at the beginning of the Paleozoic Era, the main event was known as the Cambrian Explosion. (The name Cambrian, incidentally, comes from the region in Wales where the first geologic data for this period was obtained. The word "explosion" references here a sudden, enormously expanding proliferation of species.)
From a geological perspective, “three billion years of mind-numbing biological simplicity was replaced overnight by burgeoning complexity.” This ultimate “phase transition” occurred with the advent of single-celled organisms evolving into multicellular organisms (a primordial “In unity there is strength” scenario). Suddenly, and with spectacular effect, the trick of cellular differentiation and aggregation into multicellular organisms occurred. An explosion of new forms of life resulted, with a bewildering variety of complexity.
This is perhaps best demonstrated by reference to the Phyla of the Cambrian. Biologists, in their quest for reductionism in their science, and in order to classify everything under a variety of categories, created a vast hierarchy for life and its many forms. The broadest of the categories are referred to as Kingdoms (essentially animals, plants, or Department of Defense selected cronies).
Immediately below Kingdoms are Phyla (but just above Classes, e.g. mammals and reptiles). Phyla are discrete body plans, upon which many variations may be created. Phylum Arthropoda, for example, the most populous of all Phyla, have jointed appendages (insects, centipedes, spiders, crabs). Phylum Chordata include vertebrates such as humans.
There are 30 major Phyla in today’s world, just as there have been for much of the past 500 million years. This is a striking continuity of anatomical designs, upon which as many as 50 billion variants have come and gone. However, in the aftermath of the Cambrian explosion, there may have been as many as 100 Phyla! (The majority of these, however, became extinct in short order.)
[If one follows a straight-forward leap-of-logic, one could also wonder as to which Phyla are best suited to survive in the immediate future. It is worth noting, in this regard, that vertebrates (of which humans are a part) are rarities in the world of nature as compared with insects. The lowly ant, for example, (and its kindred) is the king of the insects and/or jungle. In the tropical forest canopy ants make up 70 percent of the total insect population. The possible reason for this is that ants are the culmination of insect evolution in the same sense that humans are the current culmination of vertebrate evolution. Ants have developed (even without the aid of television and/or an Inter Net) complex social systems that have had a tremendous impact on their evolutionary success.]
[Only two percent of insect species are social, but social insects represent more than half the insect biomass (i.e. ants really know how to party!). More importantly from the human viewpoint, the total biomass (the weight of the physical beings) of all the vertebrates (including all humans, mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians combined), is less than one-fourth the total biomass of all the ants! In effect, ants carry a lot of weight! [pun intended] It just might give us humans pause to consider that insects have been around an incredibly longer time than we have, and in all likelihood, will still be here when we are all long gone.]
The Cambrian Explosion, meanwhile, was a geologically brief moment (less than a hundred million years) of tremendous evolutionary experimentation, followed by a severe sorting process -- particularly severe in terms of species, with whole Phyla (which includes a whole wrath of species) going extinct in the twinkling of an eye. The shape of today’s world was influenced to a large extent by which Phyla survived 500 million years ago! Furthermore, the Cambrian animals were, as it turns out, part of a system in the chaotic regime, a system that was moving toward, but had not yet reached, the edge of chaos. The latter is an intriguing concept to say the least.
For example, in the process of writing these annals, the intellectual process behind these ramblings had initially digressed into theories of complexity and chaos as a means of explaining and/or theorizing on the subject of the Cambrian Explosion, why it happened, and how. However, it readily became apparent that such a digression stood an excellent chance of creating the third “C” of the Great Triad: Complexity -- Chaos -- Confusion. Therefore, in the spirit of genteel enlightenment (as opposed to enforced-karmic-stuff-it-home-enlightenment), it was determined to sidetrack the discussion on the Complexity-Chaos-Cambrian Connections into a side bar (which can then be read by those intrepid explorers of the mind, whose destiny does not include get-to-the-point discrimination.)
Or... Think of the side-bar as taking the scenic route -- longer but with a bit more awe.
Welcome back to the Main Event.
458 Million B.C.E. The Ordovician Period begins. After about 20 Caturyugas, the first primitive jawless fishes appeared. This is also a time for mountains being elevated in New England and volcanoes along the Atlantic Coast (assuming you care about what happened on the east coast!). Then there is the limestone deposited in shallow seas for no apparent reason other than to preserve fossils for future study by an intelligent and possibly quite transient species (e.g. mankind).
415 Million B.C.E. The Silurian Period begins with the earliest small land plants and animals. But none are domesticated. Great mountains are formed in northwest Europe. Corals appear, building reefs in far northern seas, shelled cephalopods are abundant, the first jawed fish appears, and the Trilobites, never having mastered the art of building fishing poles, go into serious decline preparatory to their vanishing from the scene. So much for their hubris in thinking themselves the masters of creation!
370 Million B.C.E. The Devonian Period arrives with amphibians, and an abundance of primitive fishes and the first sharks. Insects begin as land plants evolve, even to the extent of large trees appearing. The Brachiopods reach their pinnacle of success (simultaneously proclaiming their superiority over the Trilobites -- and the fact that they knew all along that they were the end point of creation). Give me a "B"! Give me an "r"! ... Mountains are again raised in New England -- as if New England needed yet more mountains!
328 Million B.C.E. Some 50 Caturyugas after the beginning of the Cambrian, the Carboniferous Period begins. This period is primarily known for the beginning of the blight of our world: lawyers. E.g. in true political and/or legalistic fashion, the Carboniferous Period is split into two distinct epochs: The Lower Carboniferous (also known as the Mississippian), famous for an abundance of relatively modern types of sharks, and the Upper Carboniferous (also known as the Pennsylvanian), where some 300 million years ago, reptiles (snakes-in-the-grass, et al) appeared. Also, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, there were great coal forests. You might want to think about that one. Forests of coal? Possibly they meant to say forests whose destinies were to become the stuff of coal. Meanwhile, land plants became more diversified, including many ancient kinds of trees. Crinoids, the flower children of a very early Age of Aquarius (flowerlike in form and anchored by a stalk opposite the mouth), achieved their greatest development.
285 Million B.C.E. Then came the great Permian Period, known to oil and gas men the world over as one of the premier stratus to find oil, gas, and other profitable hydrocarbons. Ah yes, abundant conifers and developing reptiles all struggling to fulfill their destinies to fill our gas tanks some 250 to 285 million years later. It was one of the great valiant efforts in geologic history. Also one of the saddest. For when I say they gave their all, I really mean they gave their all. For with the end of the Permian, we also closed the Paleozoic (“old life”) Era, and species after species ended their own species' Wheel of Life.
Modern seas contain twice as many species as in the Cambrian world. But the increase in the number of species was no steady march from ancient to modern times. The evidence, on the contrary, shows interruptions and occasional catastrophic collapses in diversity; mass extinctions that felled huge percentages of existing species within a single geological instant. Five such events punctuate the history of life on Earth. Many lesser collapses, not big enough to deserve the appellation “Mass Extinction”, but nevertheless devastating on a continent-wide scale, also took their toll. As a result, 99.9 percent (which is a significant percentage) of all species that have ever lived are now extinct!
If the Cambrian Explosion is the single most spectacular phenomenon in the fossil record for the advent of life, the Permian Extinction, when no less than 96 percent of all then-existing species perished, is one of the most notable K-Mart specials on discontinued species. The Permian close-out special occurred some 250 million years ago, and began a virtual trend in mass elimination. Even so, with the end of the Paleozoic, there were fish in the waters as well as sea plants. Amphibians had made their transition from water to dry land, and may even have spanned the ancestors of crocodiles.
The Permian Extinction is also known as The Great Dying. Reasons for this extinction have included several hypotheses (aka wild guesses), including massive volcanic eruptions, meteoroid impact, large changes in sea level, and severe climate changes. G. Jeffrey Taylor [<http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/Feb01/permianImpact.html>] has reported on studies which show that the event was precipitated by a 9-kilometer asteroid impacting the Earth some 251 millions years ago. It is noteworthy that all of the hypotheses just mentioned are involved in the asteroid impact.
There was, for example, "an astonishing change in seal level -- a drop of about 100 meters" (roughly the length of a football field). There was a huge flood basalt in Siberia circa 251 million years ago. The Armageddon for most of the species was geologically extremely fast -- spanning at most a few thousand years ("a snap of the fingers in geologic time"). There was also massive volcanic eruptions -- although the volcanic eruptions were not necessarily immediately after impact, but the result of a fundamental instability in the Earth's crust for a long time thereafter. There have been, for example, another nine huge flood basalt eruptions on the continents since 251 million B.C.E.
<http://palaeo.gly.bris.ac.uk/Palaeofiles/Permian/pangea.html> makes the case of the continents of Earth being in a Super Continent -- called Pangea -- which had "a number of side affects which could have led to species becoming extinct. This theory assumes that weather and serious fluctuations in sea levels could have done a lot of damage.
<http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2002/28jan_extinction.htm> reports on both of these ideas. They also provide the cool map of Pangea shown below:
Is the "Paleo-Tethys Ocean" an impact crater?
250 Million B.C.E. The Mesozoic Era (“Middle Life”) begins, with the most notable “vacant ecology” since the end of the Precambrian Era. In the process, the new state of affairs continues with the Permian-initiated trend, fad, fashion, whatever... of periodic mass extinctions. These clearance opportunities have continued to this day.
Mass extinctions, as evidenced by the fossil record, have occurred (in terms of millions of years ago): 250, 222, 198, 175, 146, 126, 94, 68, 42, and 16. The mathematically inclined reader might notice a certain periodicity of some 26 million years. In fact the underlined dates are those in which the 26 million year cycle is exact!
One might also breathe a sigh of relief by recognizing that the next mass extinction is, in terms of the cyclical nature of the phenomena, some 10 million years in the future. Whew! [Of course, the extinction of the human species is possible without being part of a mass extinction of species.]
It has been speculated that these mass extinctions are the result of periodic asteroid impact! However, only the largest extinction (in terms of the percentage of species vanishing) 68 million years ago is considered by the majority of experts in the field to have been caused by asteroid impact. Some experts, however, do suspect as many as 60% of the mass extinctions could have occurred from asteroids periodically making their presence felt.
There is, in fact, a power-law distribution of extinctions, which may be related to a size distribution of asteroids This might lead one to speculate that every 26 million years, our Earth and/or solar system passes through a minefield of kamikaze asteroids. Note, for example, the curious mathematical fact (most mathematical facts are curious) that 26 million years is rather precisely one thousand Great Years, the Great Year (for those who have already forgotten) being 25,920 years and the exact time for a Precession of the Equinoxes, when the Earth’s north pole cuts a wide circle in the heavens, moving the pole star from Polaris to Vega to Dragonis and back to Polaris. This might suggest that the Precession of the Equinoxes is due -- or was caused by -- one or more of the periodic asteroid impacts. Nothing like getting hit upside the face to begin a process of walking around with one's head at a tilt.
A more mundane (or worldly) explanation for periodic mass extinctions is that the global ecosystems are poised near the edge of chaos. According to many of the computer simulations used in Complexity theory, a population remains in balance for a while; then, wham, rapid change, chaos for a while, then more stasis. In the midst of all this, there can even be mass extinctions. Not by asteroids, just the dynamics of a complex adaptive system.
In the flow of liquid through a pipe, you have at low velocity, laminar or smooth flow. At high velocity, you get turbulence or chaos. At the edge, you get smooth flow intermittently interrupted by cells of turbulence. This latter state is called intermittency, the edge of chaos. At low mutation rates, nothing very interesting happens. Increasing the mutation rate too much and the system goes chaotic and dies out. It is only in between the two rates that a rich ecology develops -- an ecology at the edge of chaos, where computer simulations can see avalanches of extinctions with a power-law distribution. Such computer simulations of ecologies also appear to evolve to the edge of chaos all by itself, as if the mathematics of the world somehow demands it.
Another alternative is that someone has been playing with the numbers in obtaining the exact dating of the extinctions. Note that the dates given above vary somewhat significantly, depending upon the source of one’s information. The fossil record, contrary to most laymen’s view, is not excessively reliable nor incontrovertible. [Gee, what a surprise!]
One might also note that the end-Permian extinction, according to Complexity theory, would require a lot of connectedness among the species. Inasmuch as the Permian Extinction coincided with the coalescence of the continents to form Pangaea, this might make sense. All biota would be in potential contact with each other, and as everyone knows, it’s all about relationships. Clearly the excessive contact between species would have added to the potential for chaotic, far-from-equilibrium conditions. There is also the fact that the collisions and coalescence involved in the continents coming together, along with mountain building and other geotraumas, could have contributed to, if not caused, the end-Permian extinction. Note also that roughly half the coastline (where many species live) was lost!
It is noteworthy that there was considerable mountain building along the east coast of North America and in central Europe during the upper Pennsylvanian, which culminated in the Permian with the final folding of Appalachians and central European mountain ranges. The great flourishing coal swamps forests of the Pennsylvanian Period (particularly in the northern hemisphere) were followed first by great glaciers in the southern hemisphere and reefs in warm northern seas, and then lava flows in the eastern North America by the time of the Triassic. The Trilobites finally bit the dust as a species, just as the reptiles were overtaking the amphibians in numbers and diversity.
One might also note that a really good whack by an asteroid might have initiated the continental movement which resulted in Pangea -- not to mention a LOT of mountain building, flooding, and coastal region destruction in the process!
With the advent of the Mesozoic Era, we also began the Triassic Period, with the first appearance of dinosaurs. We could spend a lot of time talking about dinosaurs -- Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Brontosaurus, and the like  -- but instead will accede to the true connoisseur of dinosaurs, Calvin and Hobbs. Besides, we have available for our study, a modern day version of Tyrannosaurus Rex, the king of tyranny-activated rule, Donald Rumsfeld, et al. Nothing ever really changes, does it?
Biblically... (A strange place for biblical ramblings, but there you have it!) Biblically, the Mesozoic Era is contained succinctly in Genesis 1: 20-23. The Hebrew term for what has been translated as “great whales” is Taninim (plural of Tanin). The later term is used to mean “sea serpent”, "sea monster”, even “crocodile”. The latter, of course, is in the line with dinosaurs, ancestors of crocodile having appeared in the Permian Period and managing to survive as a species to modern day. It is particularly noteworthy that the Bible lists birds ahead of dinosaurs -- paleontologist have in recent years found evidence to show early birds had more in common with sea life than with desert lizards. Thus it was sea life, birds, and then dinosaurs (great whales) -- as in the Bible.
155 Million B.C.E. The beginning of the Jurassic Period, where Movieland Parks predominated, populated with a variety of inmates from primitive birds, sophisticated dinosaurs, and the first small mammals. This was the zenith for the dinosaurs -- implying it was all downhill from there. That’s life. Closer to home, the Sierra Nevada Mountains were uplifted, set in place, and Yosemite was declared a national park.
[The naming of Yosemite National Park is an interesting side note. It seems there was a Jewish environmentalist, far ahead of his time, who became known throughout the area for his good deeds. The local people, having developed a healthy respect for the man, were nevertheless somewhat at a loss as to what his name was -- he kept to himself a lot. Consequently, instead of saying, “Hey, you!”, they all resolved to address the fellow in, what to them, was their most respectful tone. Thus their greeting to him was always, “Yo! Semite!”] [You may have hated it, but I loved it!]
130 Million B.C.E. The time we’ve all been waiting for: The Cretaceous Period! Just kidding. About all the Cretaceous is known for is the appearance of floras with modern aspects and the disappearance of the dinosaurs by the end of the Cretaceous. The end of the BIG Guys is widely believed to have come about by the impact of a particularly aggressive asteroid -- circa 68 million B.C.E. This is as good a theory as any. But one should keep in mind that it was not only the fall of Dino the Dino-saur, but there were a lot of other saurs to bite the dust as well. The mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous was, on a percentage basis of species extinction, the most severe yet discovered in the fossil record. It was the end of the Mesozoic Era (a significant event in itself) and it was for the vast majority of species apparently -- as the noblest of the American Indians have been reported to have observed -- a good day to die.
It is also the time for our beloved Rocky Mountains to make their appearance. Dinosaurs had reached their maximum development, had learned to ski downhill, and promptly became extinct (due to what some theorists suspect, was the excessively high cost of downhill skiing). Makes sense.
68 Million B.C.E. The Beginning of the Cenozoic Era (“current life”), most of which the Bible summarizes in a mere two verses of Genesis (1: 24-25). The Cenozoic Era is then subdivided into two Periods, the first of which is the Tertiary Period. The Tertiary Period is then further subdivided into five “cenes” (also known as Epochs). The first is the Paleocene, where the first placental mammals appeared, and the earliest known example of a male member of the species clinging to his mother’s apron strings occurred. Despite the latter, primitive mammals were definitely on the rise.
58 Million B.C.E. The Tertiary continues blithely along with the advent of the Eocene Epoch (or Eocene Epic, depending on your druthers). The time was marked with mountain building in the Rockies, Andes, Alps and Himalayas (small wonder that yet another mass extinction occurred 42 million years ago). There was a continued expansion of early mammals, and the primitive horse appeared. Odds at the time were about 300 million to one to show.
35 Million B.C.E. The Oligocene Epoch arrives, and with it mastodons, monkeys, and apes. Mastodons! Wow! At the same time, many older types of mammals became extinct.
32 Million B.C.E. The first appearance of a fox-sized creature called Aegyptopithecus, which was half-ape and half-monkey and possessed a tail. It is conjectured that the creature probably ran along tree branches instead of swinging below them. According to paleoanthropologists (that curious breed between paleontologists, anthropologists, and an occasional archeologist), this is the first appearance of an ape-like creature, which could be considered an ancestor of Man! The ancestral part was possible despite the inability of the creatures to pronounce the name of their species.
25 Million B.C.E. The beginning of the Miocene Epoch, a time of renewed uplift of the Rockies and other mountains (possibly in protest to the high cost of ski-lift tickets), great lava flows in the Western United States, and mammals beginning to acquire modern characteristics. For the most part, the mountain building phase occurred predominantly toward the end of the Miocene.
16 Million B.C.E. The Pliocene Epoch (and the final act of the Tertiary Period of the Cenozoic Era) begins with a bang. Ramapithecus, a possible early contender for ancestor of man, appeared. Theorists later determined that while Rama Baby was probably in the ancestral closet of the orangutan, he was not a direct ancestor of man. Possibly a cousin. In any case, orangutans had left the man-line and were going “where no man had gone before.” Unfortunately, as chance would have it, Ramapithecus, that portion of the species not following the orangutan destiny, was extinct by about 7 million B.C.E.
At roughly the same time as Ramapithecus was roaming about, Proconsul, a genus ancestral to the chimpanzee, arrived with no-tail-at-all from the ape-rich epoch of the Miocene. Proconsul was quite possibly the rootstock of any number of later anthropoids. Many scientists consider this to be the first appearance of a hominid, one capable of revealing a possible transition to manlike apes.
10 Million B.C.E. Best guess for a time for the gibbon to split off from the ancestral monkey-ape-man line. It was also the first appearance of an ape-man worthy of the classification, Homo. [We will pass on this obvious temptation to expound at length on this classification of the latest ape-man model. For example, such a species would be at risk of extinction in the first generation!]
9 Million B.C.E. Gorillas split from the family tree. In a book by Daniel Quinn, an educated, intelligent and environmentally-aware gorilla named Ishmael takes mankind to task, and ultimately asks the question, “With gorilla gone, will there be hope for man?” The name of Ishmael, of course, comes from the first born son of Abraham, who Sarah, Abraham’s wife and half-sister, threw out of the house in favor of her own son, Isaac. One might wonder if perhaps the gorillas would have done a better job of managing the Earth, had they not had their inheritance taken from them by the “half-sister-predominates rule” (more on this curious rule, its origins, and profound implications in the next Episode).
7 Million B.C.E. Or 6 Million, depending on who you ask -- there’s a lot of controversy on dates, particularly blind ones. In any case, man and chimpanzee go their separate ways, ancestrally speaking.
5.8 Million B.C.E. First appearance of Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba -- an innovative creature which decided to walk to two legs instead of four. This was big news. "That kadabba walked upright at all is hugely significant. Paleontologists have suspected for nearly 200 years that bipedalism was probably the key evolutionary transition that split the human line off from the apes." [Michael D. Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, "One Giant Step for Mankind", Time Magazine, July 23, 2001.]
[Of course, an enormously larger evolutionary transition might have occurred much, much later, if the DNA of evolved, highly intelligent extraterrestrials were combined with the ancestors of kadabba!]
4 Million B.C.E. First appearance of Australopithecus anamensis, supposedly man’s predecessor. This followed Ardipithecus ramidus ramidus which made a brief appearance (i.e. there are few if any remains) in the 4.5 million B.C.E. time period.
3.5 Million B.C.E. A discontinuity occurs, a gap in the fossil record, that obscured the period before, during, and just after the theorized split between gorillas, chimpanzees, and prehumans. According to Becky Cann (whom we will meet in more detail in the next Episode), “What walked the Earth before the first human were creatures different from anything that has been seen on the planet or is on the planet today.” This may be the area where the “missing link” became missing in the fossil record.
3.3 Million B.C.E. The life and times of Lucy, an Australopithecus, who left the most complete skeleton of any man-ape ancestor to date, a skeleton to be eventually discovered by the Leakeys. [Incidentally, “Lucy” was so named because, (1) the skeleton was female, and (2) at the beer celebration that night, the paleoanthropologists had played the Beatles’ song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. This kind of nostalgia sort of makes you feel warm and fuzzy all over, doesn’t it?]
Following in Lucy's footsteps was Australopithecus africanus, Australopithecus aethiopicus, Australopithecus boisei, and Australopithecus robustus. The latter two, however, seemed to stumbled into a dead end and made no further contribution.
2.2 Million B.C.E. The Taung child lived in South Africa, a being which is currently the best candidate for the title of the “missing link” between man and ape. Taung was a man-ape (an ape with some characteristics of a human, but with less than half the brain size). It was the true intermediate or transitional creature between the gorilla and Homo. Taung was a primate that walked upright, thus giving paleontologists a reason to allow it to slip into the vague category of “hominid”. Ultimately, it was classified as Australopithecus, a younger version of Lucy (but probably no relation).
Bridging the gap between the various camps of Australopithecus and the latter ancestors was Homo rudolfensis. It is not known if this breed had red noses.
2.1 Million B.C.E. Another contender for the crown of “missing link” is Homo habilis, possibly a descendant of Australopithecus. This first “human” more humanoid than ape, was as close to the dividing line, the intermediate stage between man-apes and Homo sapiens, as has yet been uncovered.
2.0 Million B.C.E. First appearance of Advanced Australopithecus and Homo Erectus. [One has to believe that the paleontologist who attached the latter nomenclature to this species, must still occasionally wake up at night, laughing himself silly.] In any case, Homo Erectus was the first truly manlike creatures (in terms of skeletal appearance) to arrive on the scene. It was these creatures who were, according to theory, the progenitors of the first primitive men. Well, maybe. But it’s not all that simple. The history of Erectus is about to take us into some wholly new territory.
1.9 Million B.C.E. A slight diversion. Remember the mitochondrial DNA? (You were supposed to have learned that word, remember!?) Something strange happened between the common chimpanzees and the pygmy chimpanzees, some 1.9 million years ago. It turns out that mitochondrial DNA can be transmitted genetically only through the female line. In what is the ultimate matriarchal paradigm, all of the genes of the mitochondrial DNA hail from the female. And while the nucleic DNA and its genes are a combination of the male father and female mother of an offspring (those that carry the preponderance of the physical characteristics of an individual), the mitochondrial DNA, which determine the species’ ability to convert and utilize energy within a cell is purely an attribute provided by good old mom.
The split between the common and pygmy chimpanzee would not occur for another 600,000 years. However. Geneticists, studying the mitochondrial DNA of living chimpanzees, along with the inevitable mutations over the eons, have traced the entire chimpanzee line back to ONE SINGLE FEMALE chimpanzee that lived 1.9 million years ago! [Is science wonderful, or what? More later!]
1.5 Million B.C.E. Homo Erectus demonstrates the success of the species by extending its reign throughout Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
c. 800,000 B.C.E. [Isn't it amazing that late in the third episode is the first time we've broken into the relatively modern times of less than one millions years B.C.E.!] Meanwhile, “Java Man”, shows up on the scene and is identified as human, Homo, but classified as Homo erectus. He had apish traits in the skull, but would ultimately be accepted as a rough draft or prototype for both Neanderthals and modern humans.
c. 600,000 B.C.E. Climatic variations began with the ebb and flow of glaciers encroaching on Europe and Asia -- periodically driving the ancestors of man to take refuge in Africa, the Middle East, perhaps India, and the nearest Starbucks. Glaciation peaked about every 100,000 years, thereafter, one ice expansion after the other.
This was also the beginning of the Pleistocene Epoch, the last of the geologic time scales and the one to take us up to about 11,000 B.C.E., when the Current Epoch began. About this time, Homo heidelbergensis made a brief appearance (roughly 400,000 years) at the local beer hall.
c. 500,000 B.C.E. “Peking Man” was an erectus who may have been a cannibal. A slightly modern version of Java Man, this creature may have been using tools (and possibly even dreaming of sport cars).
c. 400,000 B.C.E. The appearance of Archaics, semi ape-men, and the first suggestion of Homo sapiens.
c. 250,000 B.C.E. Homo erectus had been the most successful human-like species (up until the modern type), originating in Africa, and spreading around much of the world including the Middle East, Europe and Asia. It was in the latter where its characteristics had first been defined in Java and Peking Man.
Then about 250,000 years ago, Homo erectus suddenly gave way to a new breed of humanity. It was the new and improved version, as if the species had been replaced totally. According to geneticist/anthropologist Becky Cann, “We don’t understand what happened with Homo erectus.” Initially, as early as 800,000 years ago, our walking tall boys had gone from Africa into Europe and Asia, leaving their mark on Java and Peking Man, and evolving eventually into archaic Homo sapiens. At the same time, we have another species, Homo Neanderthalensis, who were already vacationing in Europe. There was probably 1.3 million or so of Homo erectus on three continents, when 250,000 years ago, an invasion of a superior species began and erectus found itself being totally replaced. In is a curious fact that Asian Homo erectus apparently contributed little if anything to the gene pool of anatomically modern Homo sapiens.
In the wild, an extraordinarily small number of individuals within a species actually do the reproducing for the population. This turns out to be important for the evolvement of the human species as well, particularly when the invading precursors of modern Homo sapiens sapiens began their invasion. For when some 250,000 years ago, the first modern Homo sapiens sapiens rose from a uniquely advanced band of archaic sapiens in Africa, they “replaced the unevolved descendants of erectus without breeding with them.” The takeover may have taken 3,000 generations to complete, but it was more like outliving than invading -- the new guys on the block possessing some adaptive advantage to put them over the top. Human populations were constantly branching out (searching for greener pastures as if were), but most didn’t make it. “It may have been just a random chance that this group from Africa did essentially make it and make it for a long period of time. It might have been a benign environment, it might have been superior cultural advantage -- who knows? Something.” [emphasis added]
According to Richard Leakey: “Certainly the archaeological evidence would suggest that there was a remarkable homogeneity of the known population, which was presumably late erectus / early sapiens across most of Africa, a good part of Europe, and a good part of Asia and the Far East until about 300,000 or 200,000 years ago, and thereafter you seem to get new technologies, new ways of doing things. It’s very difficult to interpret that, but it does suggest that something happened about then.” [emphasis added] “Prior to firearms, humans didn’t have the capability of annihilating any species.” One might argue that the new technology was blade tools, but “nowhere was there evidence of warfare.” [There was, in effect, little chance for Java Man to write the book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Zhoukoudian. Oh... Zhoukoudian is the site where Java Man’s final remains were found.]
Homo sapiens neanderthaensis were also on the scene, and populating Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It had previously been believed that Neanderthals first made their appearance around 125,000 years ago, but more recent discoveries have extended the date back considerably.
c. 125,000 B.C.E. Neanderthals begin migrating northward out of Africa. Or at least this is the dating for the first evidence of such a migration. Unfortunately, there is no explanation as to why they began the migration, why they left Africa. All the anthropologists are willing to conclude is that the Neanderthals probably buried their dead in rituals, knew how to use herbs for healing as early as 60,000 years ago, and probably could speak -- the latter which might have been useful for ritual burials.
c. 92,000 B.C.E. Cro-Magnon Man, Homo sapiens sapiens, the first ancestor of man who might be able to ride a streetcar in downtown San Francisco without causing undue attention. showed up in the Middle East. Cro-Magnon was once believed by anthropologists to have descended from Neanderthal Man, and furthermore, to have arrived on the scene much later, about 35,000 years ago. But recent discoveries in caves near Mount Carmel and another near Nazareth in Israel, date the oldest Cro-Magnon to some 92,000 years ago, and apparently not a neo-Neanderthal.
There’s just one problem. IT’S ALL HAPPENING TOO FAST!
Roughly 32 million years ago, a common ancestor of monkeys, apes, and Man appeared in Africa. Then about 16 million years later, Ramapithecus, a precursor of the Great Apes branched off the primate line, Proconsul. 11 million years later, about 5 million years ago, Australopithecus showed up with hominid aspects. Then around 4 million B.C.E., Homo erectus arrived to usher in the Old Stone Age. A gap appears from 1.5 million B.C.E. to 300,000 years ago, when there is little if any evidence of evolutionary-time-scale evolvement.
Then abruptly, circa 300,000 to 200,000 years ago, without any evidence of gradual change, Neanderthal arrives on the scene. A mere 100,000 years later, Cro-Magnon arrives, with this ultimate version of Homo sapiens sapiens probably having nothing to do with Neanderthals (in fact, the two lines of Homo sapiens probably lived side by side without intermixing).
Anthropologists are absolutely amazed at the modern species’ accelerated rate of evolvement. Both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon appear much too quickly on any kind of evolutionary time scale. With tens of millions of years leading up to Homo erectus, there is simply no explanation for the abrupt and sudden appearance of neither Neanderthal nor Cro-Magnon Man. It’s a puzzlement! The questions abound!
These questions and others will be answered in the next Episode!
 The various species of dinosaurs may include: Compsognathus, Euparkeria, Coelurosauravus, Microraptor, Thecodontosaurus, Fabrosaurus, Leptoceratops, Incisivosarus, Archaeopteryx, Sordes, Anurognathus, Criorhynchus, Pterodactylus elegans, Dsungaripterus, Ornithomimus, Gallimimus, Dromaeosaurus, Oviraptor, Velociraptor, Ornitholestes, Coelophysis, Troodon, Deinonychus, Saltoposuchus, Plateosaurus, Psittacosaurus, Iguanodon, Camptosaurus, Riojasaurus, Anatosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Kentrosaurus, Therizinosaurus, Longisquama, Ankylosaurus, Euoplocephalus, Polacanthus, Tarchia, Nodosaurus, Dicraeosaurus, Scelidosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Struthiomimus, Postosuchus, Ceratosaurus, Apatosaurus, Massopondylus, Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, Quetzalcoatlus, and Tyrannosaurus. [As per Robert Mash, How to Keep Dinosaurs, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2003.]
Interlude I -- Nibiru ala Kepler
Episode IV -- In Search of Eve
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