Livoniana—have they (finally!) found a missing link?


Appearing on SBS TV [Australia] on 29 September 2001, was a program called: As it Happened: the Missing Link. Produced by the BBC in the UK,1 it tells the story of how young scientist Per Ahlberg discovered, in a long-neglected drawer in a museum in Latvia, a fossil fragment of an unusual jaw. He ran its details through cladistic analysis software that had been programmed with all the distinguishing anatomical features of fish and tetrapods, and the jaw supposedly turned out to be part fish and part tetrapod (vertebrate with four limbs). He named the organism Livoniana.

There seems to be only one published academic paper on Livoniana, written by Ahlberg himself and some colleagues.2 In their paper the authors compiled a table comparing 34 different features of 10 different organisms on their supposed transition series from fish to tetrapod (see Table 1). The 34 features include presence/absence of accessory teeth rows, presence/absence of digits, etc. The first organism in their table, Eusthenopteron, which is 100% fish, scores 0 for all 34 features. The second organism, also a fish, scores 0 on most features and 1 on a few features. The tenth organism, lchthyostega, an undisputed tetrapod, scores 0 on only seven of the 34 features examined. Organisms 5 to 9, all tetrapods, score 1 for most features, out of those features that could be determined.

Table 1

Table 1. Phylogenetic analysis of supposed fish to tetrapod evolution (from Ahlberg et al).8

Organisms number 3 and 4, Elpistostege and Livoniana respectively, score a mix of 0’s and 1’s. However, from the small scrap of Livonianan jawbone available, only a paltry eleven of the 34 features could even be determined! As with most proposed transitional forms, it is this lack of evidence that makes it suitable for the evolutionists as a transitional form, since this gives them room to speculate on those features that are not available for observation. Note that the BBC program was supposed to be about how tetrapods got their legs. However, all that Ahlberg found was a fragment of a jaw—no legs; no partly-formed legs, etc.

It is reminiscent of the situation with the proposed land-mammal to whale transitional forms, Pakicetus and Ambulocetus. Because only fragments of their skeletons were found, and because the crucial pelvic bones were missing, evolutionists were able to make fanciful ‘transitional’ claims that would not have been possible had more complete data been available. This applies especially to the reconstruction of Pakicetus’s alleged mode of locomotion, now known to be totally wrong, and which was based on mere skull fragments! Despite repeated embarrassments, many evolutionary paleontologists still compulsively engage in speculative reconstructions from fragmentary fossil remains.3

Recently we published a paper refuting the supposed reptile-to-mammal transitional series.4 The same sort of reasoning and logic as was used in this article would apply to the fish-to-tetrapod series. In this proposed reptile-to-mammal series, features do not progress consistently. Some organisms towards the mammal end of the series are devoid of certain mammal-like features present in organisms closer to the reptile end of the series. The majority of the hundred-odd traits examined did not progress consistently.

The same occurs in Ahlberg’s fish-to-tetrapod series. For example, Acanthostega, ninth organism in his series, boasts two tetrapod features that are absent in the tenth organism! Despite much effort, evolutionists cannot find organisms that will fit into their theoretical constructs of smooth progression from one type of organism to another.5

It is probable that if more data about Livoniana becomes available, scientists will either conclude that it was definitely a fish or definitely a tetrapod. Even if it does turn out to be a ‘mosaic’ creature like the platypus,6 which contains features which are typical of various different classes of animals but which are not usually found together in one organism, this does not indicate evolution. Evolutionists do not regard mosaic creatures such as the platypus as evidence of transformation of one basic kind of creature into another. Creation is a valid, and far more logical and reasonable, explanation for such creatures.

Interestingly, the TV programme gives a good account of this process of abandoning a transitional form as more data becomes available. It describes how when living coelacanths were found, they were seen to be 100% fish, and so had to be abandoned as a transitional form.

At the end, the programme says of Livoniana:

‘It also has one freakish feature: there are seven rows of teeth. It is unlike any other creature we know of. This suggests it must be one of the host of mutants that made this change, just one of which would eventually become our ancestor.’

But multiple rows of teeth are not unusual in fish. In a typical supermarket you can usually find fish with multiple rows of teeth. Two well-known fish with multiple rows of teeth are piranhas7 and sharks.

In summary the claim that Livoniana constitutes a ‘missing link’ between fish and tetrapods is not only false, but highly fanciful.


  1. The transcript of the Livoniana programme is available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2000/missinglink_transcript.shtml, 3 October 2001. Return to text.
  2. Ahlberg, P.E., Lukševičs, E., and Mark-Kurik, E., A Near-Tetrapod from the Baltic Middle Devonian, Palaeontology 43(3):533–548, 2000. Return to text.
  3. See the ‘Whale evolution?’ section of CMI’s response to PBS-TV series Evolution, Episode 2, ‘Great Transformations’. This response also deals with the alleged evidence for tetrapod evolution. Return to text.
  4. Woodmorappe, J., Mammal-like reptiles: major trait reversals and discontinuities, Journal of Creation 15(1):44–52, 2001. Return to text.
  5. Another paper we’ve published on this theme (of refuting alleged proof of an evolutionary series) is: Woodmorappe, J., The non-transitions in ‘human evolution’—on evolutionists’ terms, Journal of Creation 13(2):10–12, 1999. Return to text.
  6. Doolan et al., The platypus, Creation 8(3):6–9, 1986. Return to text.
  7. Catchpoole, D., Piranha, Creation 22(4):20–23, 2000. Return to text.
  8. Ahlberg et al., Ref. 2, p. 548. Return to text.