Once DNA evidence made clear that all humanity came from Africa, researchers have been scouring that vast continent in search of a fuller story of our origins. Where in Africa was the cradle of humanity? And how are modern people related to the common ancestor that all humanity shares?
It was the time of P.T. Barnum, when people would line up to see a whitewashed elephant or a carefully faked petrified giant. But in 1868, a display in Philadelphia proved that reality could be far stranger than fiction. That year, the Academy of Natural Sciences showed the world its first glimpse of a real dinosaur skeleton - a 15-foot-tall Godzilla pulled from a pit in Haddonfield.
Timing is everything, and if there was ever a scientist whose legacy was tarnished by bad timing, it was Jean Baptiste Lamarck. The French naturalist lived from 1744 to 1829 - and published his own evolutionary theory decades before Darwin's theory went public in 1859.
Anyone doubting our evolutionary tie to other apes should check out that Philadelphia festival of food and fun known as Wing Bowl. The annual event has some striking parallels to behavior outlined in the article "Chimpanzee Hunting Behavior and Human Evolution," which appeared in the magazine American Scientist.
It's a common misconception that evolution is a matter of faith, because it happens too slowly to observe. Here's the way one reader sees it: "I don't see any fish walking around, nor do I see any other creature in mid-evolving mode. . . . Simply stated, both creationism and evolution should be taught as competing theories; both are not provable, and both cannot be duplicated in a lab."
In pursuit of her stories, award-winning science writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine. In 1995 she became a staff writer for the Inquirer - where she’s covered everything from climate change to space exploration to cancer research. Her recent story, “Faulting the Forensics” won first prize in the 2010 Keystone competition. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. It covered the intersection of science and sex. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. It was launched in April of 2011. Email Faye at firstname.lastname@example.org.