Tuesday, May 19, 2009


A 47 million-year-old fossil primate - dubbed Ida - has scientists crying "missing link".

Although discovered in 1983 near Darmstadt, Germany, the fossil didn't come to scientific attention for another 20 years when it was sold to fossil dealer Thomas Perner who, in turn, contacted paleontologist Dr Jørn Hurum from Oslo University. A team of international scientists has been studying Ida secretly for over two years now, and they believe it represents a "missing link" between hominids and other branches of the animal kingdom. In effect, Ida represents the earliest tangent to humanity.

Ida is believe to come from a period when primates diverged into apes, monkeys, and humans, while others evolved toward lemurs and such. But Ida doesn't seem to have moved toward lemurs. Scientists point to the lack of features shared by all lemurs and similar species, such as grooming claws and tooth combs. Ida's talus (a bone in her ankle) is more like that of primates.

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's (grandfather of evolution) birthday, Ida's species has been formally declared Darwinius masillae.

Moreover, Ida is the most complete (over 95%) fossil primate ever discovered. And it's in remarkable shape: scientists have been able to discern the hair that once covered its body and even the contents of its stomach. As well, they have learned that the specimen was probably around 6 to 9 months old, had a fractured wrist, and that Ida was a she - the specimen lacks a penis bone.

Ida was unveiled to the people of New York City today and the shock wave is moving outward at startling speed. Most scientists agree: textbooks will be rewritten.

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