Fossil findings that support evolutionary theory

Problems/Case Studies

An Antipodal Mystery" Clyde Freeman Herreid, University at Buffalo. State University of New York at Buffalo’s National Center for Case Study Teaching
The discovery of the platypus had the scientific world in an uproar and kept it tantalized for decades. Here was the strangest animal ever seen. How was one to classify it? It had fur. So, was it a mammal? But then what to make of its duck-like bill? And how did it produce and suckle its young? This interrupted case, based on the book by Ann Moyal entitled Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World, focuses on classification and evolution and models the scientific process, with scientists arguing, debating, collecting more information, and revising their opinions as more data become available.
This case is appropriate for high school general biology classes, and undergraduate evolutionary biology and zoology courses.

"A Strange Fish Indeed: The “Discovery” of a Living Fossil" Robert H. Grant, Saint Louis University. State University of New York at Buffalo’s National Center for Case Study Teaching
Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer's discovery of an extraordinary looking fish in South Africa in 1938 and its identification by J.L.B. Smith of Rhodes University as a coelacanth (a fish believed to be extinct for over 70 million years) caused a sensation around the world. This case study recounts the discovery through a series of fictionalized diary entries.
Developed for use in an introductory freshman biology course as an introduction to the nature and methods of scientific inquiry, the case could also be modified for use in a number of upper-level biology courses such as ichthyology, evolutionary biology, and conservation ecology.

"The Missing Link" Elizabeth Strasser, California State University, Sacramento. State University of New York at Buffalo’s National Center for Case Study Teaching
The setting for this case study is a paleontological dig in East Africa, where Sam, an American undergraduate student, has unearthed part of what appears to be an ancestral human skull. In the lab, students examine a number of primate skulls and are asked to make up a phylogeny based on their observations.
The is case study is designed for a lower division, general education laboratory course that accompanies a lecture course in physical (biological) anthropology..

"Of Mammoths and Men: A Case Study in Extinction" Nancy A. Schiller, University at Buffalo. State University of New York at Buffalo’s National Center for Case Study Teaching
The recent discovery of a mammoth frozen in the Siberian tundra is the backdrop for this case study, which explores the various theories for the extinction of the great Ice Age mammals and Homo neanderthalensis. Students research evidence for and against the different hypotheses and then discuss in class the merits of each.
The case was designed for use in a freshman evolutionary biology course. Instructors of courses in anthropology and paleontology might also find it appropriate.

"The Dating Game: A Case Study in Human Evolution" Shoshana Tobias, University at Buffalo. State University of New York at Buffalo’s National Center for Case Study Teaching
In this role-playing case study, students attempt to determine the identity of a variety of human fossils based on characteristics described during a "quiz show.
The case was designed to be used in a general biology class for freshman students where the focus is on evolution. It could also be used in an anthropology or paleontology course.

"Alien Evolution: The Return of the Cambrian Explosion" Shoshana Tobias, University at Buffalo. State University of New York at Buffalo’s National Center for Case Study Teaching
In this case, which combines problem-based learning and role-playing, students research the environmental conditions of the Cambrian period and the types of organisms that developed during that time as they speculate about possible cases for the "Cambrian Explosion."

"Seven Skeletons and a Feather: The Mysteries of Archaeopteryx". Clyde F. Herreid, University at Buffalo. State University of New York at Buffalo’s National Center for Case Study Teaching
This problem-based learning case uses Archaeopteryx, the most famous fossil in the world, to show the vital role that fossils play in understanding evolutionary history and to explore the different theories for the origin of flight and the ongoing debate over a bird-dinosaur connection.
The case was designed for an introductory biology course where the focus is on evolution. It would also be appropriate for classes in geology.

CNN Video Clips

Topic: "Chad Fossil Find": Biology 7th Ed. CNN Ed 2003 (2:20)

A team headed by French paleontologist Michel Brunet has discovered a 6–7 million year old fossil they claim is a human ancestor.  The fossil, nicknamed Toumai, was discovered in Chad.  The skull is humanlike in having a flat face, protruding brow, and teeth, but the body seems to have been more like that of a chimp.  Experts disagree about where exactly the new find fits in the hominoid family, but all agree that it is an important find.  It is the oldest humanlike fossil and the first discovered in West Africa. (Student worksheet provided on CD)

Topic: "Winged Reptiles": Biology 8th Ed. CNN Ed 2004 (1:25)
Recent examination of two fossil pterosaurs provides new information about the animals’ flying abilities. One fossil pterosaur was about the size of a crow, the other the size of a small plane. CAT (computerized axial tomography) scans of the brain of the larger fossil showed that certain regions were highly developed. This suggests that the animal was a highly agile flyer. Analysis of the fossils also showed that pterosaurs fly with their heads facing downward. (Student worksheet provided on CD)

Topic: "Mystery Ape": Biology 6th Ed. CNN Ed 2002 (3:07)

In North Central Congo there is evidence of an ape unlike any described species.  Mitochondrial DNA evidence suggests that the animal is a chimpanzee. It is, however, larger than a typical chimpanzee, In addition, it displays different behavior and has a gorilla-like bony crest on its skull. One theory is that it is a hybrid between a male gorilla and a female chimpanzee. (Student worksheet provided on CD)

Topic: "Human Ancestor": Biology 6th Ed. CNN Ed 2002 (2:00)
The discovery of a one million-year-old skull in Ethiopia is the first evidence that Homo erectus was still living in Africa at the time that modern humans arose there. That means this species could be our direct ancestor. Anthropologist Henry Gilbert believes that Homo erectus gave rise to Homo sapiens in Africa, lending support to the African emergence model of human evolution. (Student worksheet provided on CD)

Topic: "Earliest Homo sapiens": Biology 8th Ed. CNN Ed 2004 (1:42)

A 160,000-year-old fossil skull discovered in Ethiopia provides a new glimpse at our early ancestors. The skull appears to be from a 20- to 30-year-old man. A second skull found nearby is of a child. Tim White of the University of California (UC) at Berkeley classifies the fossils as members of a new subspecies that he calls Homo sapiens idaltu. Compared to modern humans, these ancestors had a slightly larger skull and brain case, and a slightly longer face. Tools found in the same area as the fossils were probably used to hunt game. The worksheet provides the URL for an interview with Professor White on the Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley website. (Student worksheet provided on CD)


"The Mammals That Conquered the Seas" Wong, Kate. Current Issues in Biology. Scientific American, Inc. May 2002. 32-43.
The evolutionary history of whales has always been a mystery, but more information is being learned today than ever before with the help of numerous fossils and DNA analysis. This article details much of the fossil data on the evolutionary journey of the whale. The article is followed by a comprehension quiz and critical thinking questions.

"Our youngest ancestor only 3.3M years old". Bob Stein. Post and Courier. 
Fossilized remains of a child who died 3.3 million years ago, belonging to the same species as “Lucy”, was discovered in Ethiopia.  The skeleton illustrates the hybrid nature of the ancestral line of humans, combining human and ape characteristics.