The Taxonomy of Barney
Evidence of Convergence in Hominid Evolution
by Edward C. Theriot, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Arthur E. Bogan, Freshwater Molluscan Research, Sewell, New Jersey Earle E. Spamer, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
[This is an abbreviated version of the original article. The full text appears in AIR 1:1, January/February 1995, and in the book Best of Annals of Improbable Research.]
[School groups can hear and see a presentation based on this lecture. To arrange one, please telephone Edward Theriot or Earle Sapamer at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. The number is 215-299-1000.]
According to National Geographic, hominids evolved first on the African continent, radiating to occupy the other continents during the past tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Current opinions put forth by anthropologists indicate that several genera and species evolved, of which only Homo exists today. The only evidence on which these suppositions are based are skeletal remains, preserved mostly as fragments. Cladistic studies of the characteristics of the bone fragments have led scientists to derive the evolutionary relationships between these different hominid animals.
However, from field evidence and empirical observations, we have discovered a previously unrecognized form of hominid, alive today, which is presumably globally distributed. It is certainly found in North America, where we first observed it. Its external morphology is completely unlike hominid morphology, for which reason it has been until now overlooked. Its discovery has immediate and far-reaching implications on understanding hominid evolution.
Materials and MethodsIn February 1994, we observed on television an animal which was there identified as a dinosaur, Barney. Its behavioral characteristics suggested that it was dissimilar to the diverse dinosaurian faunas that are so well documented. Even accounting for the probability that some dinosaurs were socially closely organized, and that some even may have been warm-blooded, Barney’s animated attitude, communication skills, and worshipful relationship with juvenile specimens of Homo, all pointed to an unrecognized aspect of reptile form and function.
To test the hypothesis that Barney is a reptile descended from the true dinosaurs, we went into the field in order to capture and study a living specimen. This we accomplished with remark-able ease, as Barney was advertised to be appearing at a local shopping mall. In a secure area, we established an observation post, which met the immediate need for controlled docu-mentation of Barney’s external physical characteristics.
Additional instrumentation was required to determine the internal structure of Barney. We elected not to sacrifice the specimen, as we believed that this would have had a negative impact on the associated fauna (the juvenile specimens of Homo). Mostly non-invasive procedures were designed to obtain our data. A wide-field X-ray emitter was built to obtain images of the skeletal structure of Barney. Unexposed X-ray film plates were hung decora-tively on the wall near where Barney was expected to show itself; they were not noticed by any of the human subjects, nor by mall security. The X-ray emitter had only short exposure times, thus we believe that the human subjects in proximity to Barney were in no danger greater than were the residents of Chernoble.
ObservationsX-ray photographs of Barney have provided our most astounding observations (Fig. 1). The skeleton is not that of a reptile, but it is clearly hominid both in morphometry and distribution of osteological elements. In fact, it is indistinguishable from the skeleton of Homo. The pelvic structure is mammalian; there are heterodont teeth with a dental formula precisely that of Homo; there are five digits on each of the extremities; and there are no vertebrae beyond the coccyx of the vertebral column, leaving the tail without skeletal support. However, the presence of a coelom, or body cavity, separating the skeleton from the dermal structure, makes Barney very unlike mammals and reptiles.
AnalysisThe external morphology of Barney belies its mammalian affinity. Evolutionarily this suggests some selective advantage, to have the external form of a dinosaurian reptile and the internal structure and abilities of a hominid mammal. This view is supported by Barney’s observed ecological niche and behavioral characteristics, where it is always in association with juvenile hominids. The association seems to be one of co-dependence, and we present conjecture that Barney has evolved into the niche occupied by juvenile hominids, who by their own nature occupy a very protected part of hominid social structure, thus Barney would effectively ensure its survival by integrating itself into this environment.
This still does not explain the taxonomic relationship of Barney to other vertebrates. To examine this, we compared various physical characters of Barney with the characters of other mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish. We selected characters based on their affinities across the spectrum of vertebrates. We added or discarded characters until we achieved the results we believed, then stopped. Barney was compared to humans, whales, ornithischian and saurischian dinosaurs, and birds. In the cladistic diagrams our outgroups are live and dead salmon. We compared Barney to the outgroups of live and dead salmon. We correctly predicted that Barney was very unlike a live salmon, but we were very surprised to find that the tree comparing Barney to a dead salmon (Fig. 2) was more parsimonious even than the tree which grouped Barney with the dinosaurs.
The remarkable similarity of Barney to dead salmon emphasizes the distinctly non-reptilian characters. In each, the dermal covering is fuzz, a coelom is present, and an oral display character is present and independent from the dentition. This last character is of particular note. In Barney, the oral display (see Fig. 1) appears to serve no active function. There is no similar feature among the reptiles. This non-functional display is similar to the terminal sexual display character of the salmon. However, since Barney appears not to be in a reproductive mode, we have compared the oral display to one of territorial demarkation. We have observed similar means of territorial display in hominids (Fig. 3), which again reinforces Barney’s affinity to the Hominidae rather than the Reptilia.
Implications for EvolutionWe have demonstrated that Barney is most similar to humans. Yet it is more like a dead salmon than even the dinosaurs to which group it purports to belong! We interpret this to be a case of convergence in evolution, where the ancestral Barney has evolved to occupy the same ecological niche as that now containing juvenile hominids.
This poses significant questions to the interpretation of the fossil record. Non-skeletal materials are rarely preserved as fossils. It is therefore likely that the only part of the Barney animal to be found as a fossil is its skeleton, and we raise the question of misidentification of fossil remains. The criteria hitherto used to identify the skeletons of early humans and their precursors are non-indicative. If a skeleton of a proto-human cannot be distinguished from that of Barney, there is a likelihood that some of the skeletal specimens of early hominids—"Lucy" for example—may in fact be the skeleton of a Barney ancestor.
ConclusionBarney is not a dinosaur. It is a hitherto unknown member of the Family Hominidae, which we name Pretendosaurus barneyi (from the Latin, pretendo, meaning "allege, simulate, pretend, or pretender," and saurus, "lizard"). Its fossil record is presently unknown, but we infer from our data that it may extend to the Early Paleolithic Era. A complete reexamination of fossils said to be ancestors of humans is called for. The cultural cliché of coexistence of dinosaurs and humans, so richly represented in film (e.g. King Kong and The Flintstones), similarly may benefit from reexamination in light of the evidence seen in Barney, from which some significant sociological and anthropological conclusions may be derived.
That Barney can be sighted today in numerous places is a sure indication of a widespread occurrence of the Barney animal, perhaps even coextensive with humans. Its certain identification may be complicated by morphological changes during its life cycle. It is possible that the development of the fuzzy epidermis, and the coelom separating it from the skeleton, are characters which form at sexual maturity. The juvenile stage may be exhibited solely by an immature hominid form, which presents very serious questions as to the correct identification of human children.
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