Windows to the past

Geoff Witten gjw at RMIT.EDU.AU
Tue Dec 2 10:59:53 CST 1997

Thomas Schlemmermeyer asked for examples of windows to the past.

Windows to the past are more often illusions than reality for a simple
reason. Primitive groups do not generally survive, almost by definition.
They are replaced by more advanced groups. Representatives of primitive
groups survive in two ways.

1. As relicts in isolated geographic locations. The NZ tuatara Sphenodon is
one such example.

2. As modern representatives of old groups. Monotremes in Australia and
chamaeleons in Africa are good examples. Both are very successful, but very

Members of the first group may indeed be windows to the past. The second
group should be treated with caution because they are essentially modern
taxa with a few more plesiomorphic characters, but nevertheless highly
modified. Even members of the first group should be treated as windows to
the past on the understanding that they are likely to be hotel windows with
ocean views. You might be standing on the toilet looking through a crack in
the paint to see the sea....

Geoff Witten
Department of Anatomy and Physiology
RMIT - Bundoora
PO Box 71
Bundoora Victoria 3083
email gjw at
Phone 61 3 9468 2589
Fax 61 3 9467 8589

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