C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Kin of a distant past? Rats!

There may be no reasonable hope of settling, to the satisfaction of both camps, the argument between creationists and evolutionists about how there came to be one species – ours – unmatched in its capacity to rule and foul the planet.

So I take no firm stand in the dispute.

I am, however, not entirely comfortable with the notion that all humankind is descended from two folks who turned up, unannounced, in a lush garden with an apple tree and a conniving snake. Thus, more or less by default, I’m driven somewhat to Darwin’s side.

Archaeologists digging through ancient deposits in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere are forever coming up with new finds.

Fossilized remains, primitive tools and other artifacts give a window back through countless millennia to that moment when some vaguely apelike creature crossed the line from simian to human.

In November 1974, two fossil hunters hiking through a gully in Ethiopia happened by pure accident upon a partly exposed skeleton. Analysis of the assembled bone fragments revealed that they were remains of the earliest human ancestor ever found.

Called Lucy by her finders, after a name in a Beatles song, she was determined to be anAustralopithecus afarensiswho lived more than 3.2 million years ago and was determined to have stood 3 feet 6 inches tall and weighed no more than 65 pounds.

Genealogy has never much interested me. About three generations is about as far back in the family as I care to go.

But if somehow it were to turn out that Lucy of the long arms, protruding jaw and receding forehead was a distant, distant, distant cousin or aunt, I’d be easy with that.

What gave me pause, though, was a recent report in the magazine Science that genetic researchers believe they’ve identified the earliest ancestor of all placental mammals, which includes creatures as large as elephants and as small as mice who, like us, give live birth to full-term offspring.

My problem isn’t with the science but with the accompanying illustration, showing what it’s thought our long-ago relative would have looked like.

It depicts the beast as rat-size, with a snake-like furred tail and an extended toothed snout for catching its preferred diet of bugs.

They say we can’t pick our kinfolk. Lucy I can handle. But if this savage little varmint really does have a place in my family tree, I may have to give fresh consideration to the sweet garden with one fella, one gal, one snake and a tree with an apple ripe for the picking.