Fossil could be crucial link in human evolution
The fossil dubbed Ida, a common ancestor between the two primate groups, which was unveiled Tuesday at the American Museum of Natural History. AP photo
She may be the mother of us all.
Or at least the aunt.
Scientists yesterday unveiled a 47-million-year-old fossil they say could be the elusive missing link, the smoking gun of human evolution.
This is the first link to all humans . . . truly a fossil that links world heritage, said Jorn Hurum, of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, one of the scientists reporting the find.The fossil, found in Germany in 1983 and unveiled Tuesday with great fanfare at the American Museum of Natural History, is a common ancestor of the two branches of primate: The one that eventually produced humans, and the line that led to lemurs.
Nicknamed Ida, after Hurums 6-year-old daughter, the specimen is about 95 percent complete and includes gut contents, showing that it ate fruit and leaves.
Jens Franzen, another scientist on the research team, called Ida whose technical name is Darwinius masillae the eighth wonder of the world, according to published reports.
The 2-foot-long skeleton, which is probably of a 9-month-old female, doesnt look very human, with its four legs, long curling tail and protruding jaw. But scientists say its opposable thumbs and fingernails combined with other features give it the characteristics of later primates, including us.
The fossil was unearthed by a private collector in 1983 and remained in private hands until Hurums museum bought it in 2007. Studying the volcanic rocks around where the Ida was found helped scientists to determine the fossils age, according to reports.
Despite the massive publicity Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended the unveiling and pronounced it an astonishing breakthough some scientists not connected with the find played down its significance.
I actually dont think its terribly close to the common ancestral line of monkeys, apes and people, said K. Christopher Beard of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
Rather than a long-ago aunt, I would say its more like a third cousin twice removed, he said.
The media rollout Tuesday came in advance of a special on the History Channel, which will be aired on Memorial Day and which the A&E-owned network is promoting as the most important find in 47 million years. There is also a book planned.
A scientific paper about the fossil was published in the journal, Public Library of Science.
Hurum defended the public relations blitz.
Thats part of getting science out to the public, to get attention. I dont think thats so wrong, Hurum said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story