Humanity Could Give a Name to Its Common Ancestor via Hashtag

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Radiolab and the American Museum of Natural History are crowdsourcing suggestions for what to call a species that lived some 65 million years ago, and from which all humans are descended.

placentalmammal615.jpg

Carl Buell/American Museum of Natural History

That creature above may not look like much, but that's what scientists at the American Museum of Natural History believe was the earliest ancestor from which all placental mammals descended -- meaning me, you, and everyone we know (oh and whales, dolphins, horses, and armadillos too).

The "hypothetical placental ancestor," as the species is known, lived during the early Paleocene, the period following the extinction of the dinosaurs some 66 to 65 million years ago. But there's no fossil evidence of any of these guys. Rather, scientists worked backwards from what we know about the traits of later species to reconstruct what this animal would have looked like (roughly) and when it would have roamed the Earth. A video from AMNH explains a bit more about how this was done and the cloud-based application, Morphobank, that they used:

Unfortunately for our little friend, because this "hypothetical placental ancestor" was discovered through computer code and not fossil evidence, it doesn't get an official name. But that doesn't mean it can't get an unofficial name, something dignified with which to call this keystone species.

That's where Radiolab stepped in. Joining up with AMNH, they are soliciting suggestions for what the bugger should be called via hashtag and email, which can be submitted on the Radiolab site. Once they have their list of suggestions, Radiolab and AMNH will narrow down the list to a set of finalists, and then they open up the voting to the masses. "Then," Radiolab's Molly Webster writes, "we pop the bubbly and shout the winner from the rooftops, keeping the name alive."

What kind of names are going to make it to the final round? Webster says they want something like what King Tut did for "Heru Nebu: Wetches Khau Sehotep Neteru" or what Jay-Z did for Sean Carter. "We need something light, snappy, sweet; something that'll earn this little guy respect both in the halls of academia and on the street. A nickname to stand the test of time," she writes.

The pool of entrants so far is quite a punny bunch, though that may prove to be a bit cute for the withering gaze of Radiolab and AMNH judges. Here are a few from the Twitter hashtag #NameYourAncestor:

And of course:

and

If you think you've got better, you've got until March 5 to submit.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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