Ida, 'Missing Link' in Human Family Tree? Video
(Top Posts - Science - 052009)

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Scientists find the 'missing link': A 47million-year-old
lemur that could revolutionise how we see human evolution

by David Derbyshire
Last updated at 10:17 AM on 20th May 2009
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Her name is Ida, she is three feet tall and if scientists are right,
she could be a common ancestor of apes and monkeys - and

Researchers yesterday revealed the beautifully preserved re-
mains of the lemur-like creature who died in a lake 47million
years ago.

Scientists claim she is an important 'missing link' in mankind's
family tree and will shed light on a crucial part of evolution.

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Photo : The lemur's skeleton shows distinct physical character-
istics of human beings, such as opposable thumbs - or hands
that can grasp things
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Drawing : Family portrait -- This is how Ida might have looked
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She is so perfectly fossilised, it is possible to see the outline of
her fur in the rock.

Ida was discovered in 1983 in a fossil treasure trove called the
Messel Pit in Germany, but the collector who put her on his wall
had no idea of her significance.

It was a high stakes, secretive, million-dollar deal in a Hamburg
vodka bar that finally thrust Ida into the hands of researchers
who recognised just what her skeleton might mean for our
understanding of human history.


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Photo: Dr Jorn Hurum speaks next to a slide of Ida at the Amer-
ican Museum of Natural History in New York as the fossil was
unveiled yesterday
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Photo: Missing link? Ida, the 47-million-year-old fossil that could
change the way we understand human evolution
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There had been rumours in the 20 years since Ida was found -
rumours of an astonishingly well-preserved primate fossil. But no
one in the scientific community had seen it.

Now, like a real-life Indiana Jones, Dr Hurum's first instinct was
to claim the fossil in the name of science - and not allow it to dis-
appear into the murky world of private collections once more,
collecting dust as its significance went unheeded.

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Photo: Dr Hurum shows New York City mayor Michael Bloom-
berg the fossil of Ida during the event at the Museum of Natural
History yesterday
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But it meant he would have to take the biggest gamble of his life -
raising the $1million asking price on the strength of just those three
photos and a ten-minute examination of the fossil itself to ensure it
was not an obvious fake.

Through dogged determination he raised the money. Yesterday,
after an exhaustive two years of research and investigation, Ida
was unveiled to a blaze of publicity at the American Museum of
Natural History in New York.


Dr Hurum said the fossil - named after his daughter - 'is the first
link to all humans' and 'truly a fossil that links world heritage'.

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Photo: Ida is so perfectly preserved that there are still traces of
her last meal in her stomach - and outlines of her fur can be seen
etched into the stone
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Lucy, the famous Ethiopian fossil (Australophithecus afarensis)
that is 3.2million years old, is just 40 per cent. complete.

Ida - despite being around 44million years older - is roughly 95 |
per cent complete. Individual hairs can be seen imprinted into the

Dr Jens Franzen, another of the researchers, described Ida as
'like the Eighth Wonder of the World' because of the extraord-
inary completeness of the skeleton.

Other researchers described her as a Rosetta stone - the code-
breaker that could allow them to make sense of early primate

However Dr Franzen said that rather than being a direct ancestor
like a grandmother, she was more likely to be an 'aunt'.

'She belongs to the group from which higher primates and human
beings developed but my impression is she is not on the direct
line,' he said.

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Photo:  An X-ray of Ida's teeth. She still had not shed all her
baby (deciduous) teeth when she died. Scientists believe she
was only about nine months old
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Photo: CT images of Ida's entire skull, including her jaw and teeth,
seen in greater detail above
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But he, like the other researchers, is still not certain.

Ida comes from a time when the primate family tree was splitting
into two groups - one with humans, apes and monkeys, the other
with lemurs and bush babies. Her teeth appear to indicate that
although she appears more similar to a lemur, she is actually
closer to the line that resulted in apes, monkeys and humans.

Her forward-facing eyes are like human eyes and she has human-
like thumbs.

Astonishingly, she still has her baby, or deciduous, teeth, lead-
ing researchers to guess she was just six to nine months old
when she died.

Ida, who will be exhibited at the Natural History Museum in
London on Tuesday, is 20 times older than most known fossils
that can shed light on human evolution.

The team concluded that she is a new species they have called
Darwinius masillae, to mark the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's

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Photo:  The two halves of Ida: The skeleton was split in half on
its discovery in 1983, with the two parts going to different collec-
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Sir David Attenborough, who will present a BBC documentary
on the discovery next Tuesday, said: 'The link they would have
said until now is missing, is no longer missing.'

Speaking in The Guardian, he said: 'This beautiful little creature
is going to show us our connection with the rest of the mammals:
with cows and sheep, and elephants and anteaters.'

He added: 'People who study fossils are nearly always studying
the hard parts: the shells and the bones.'

'They have to deduce from the shape of each bone what the
muscles were like. From that they can deduce more about how
the animal held itself and moved.'

'If they are lucky they can maybe make suggestions about what
the internal organs were like.'

'With this fossil you don't have make suggestions. Almost
uniquely, we not only have the bones, but we also have the fur
and the flesh.'

'So it is not a question of deduction, it is not a question of
imagination or suggestions, it is fact.'

He had high praise for Dr Hurum. 'He had the insight and the
instinct to see this thing and to know in his heart immediately
that this was going to be of profound importance... To a cer-
tain degree, it was also an act of faith... His gamble has paid
off spectacularly.'

In the Guardian piece, based on an interview for Atlantic Pro-
ductions, Sir David finished: 'Ida is a link between the apes,
monkeys and us with the rest of the mammals and ultimately
the whole animal kingdom. I think Darwin would have been

But others are more cautious.


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'Missing link' primate likely to stir debate
Scientists announce 47 million-year-old find amid media hoopla

Tues., May 19, 2009
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A discovery of a 47 million-year-old fossil primate that is said
to be a human ancestor was announced and unveiled Tuesday
at a press conference in New York City.

Known as "Ida," the nearly complete transitional fossil is 20
times older than most fossils that provide evidence for human

It shows characteristics from the very primitive non-human
evolutionary line (prosimians, such as lemurs), but is more
related to the human evolutionary line (anthropoids, such as
monkeys, apes and humans), said Norwegian paleontologist
Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum.


Video: Is this the mother of all monkeys? May 19: The American
Museum of Natural History on Tuesday unveiled a 47 million-
year-old fossil that could be a missing link in the study of human
evolution. NBC's Robert Bazell separates the history from the

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The Missing Link (1): Ida (darwinius
masillae) - Our Common Ancestor?

The Missing Link (2): Most Complete
Fossil In Primate Evolution

The Missing Link (3): The Messel Pit

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New Fossil Links Humans, Lemurs?

May 19, 2009
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Meet "Ida," the small "missing link" found in Germany that's cre-
ated a big media splash and will likely continue to make waves
among those who study human origins.


(interactive guide to human evolution
from National Geographic magazine)


"This is the first link to all humans," Hurum, of the Natural History
Museum in Oslo, Norway, said in a statement. Ida represents "the
closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor."


National Geographic-Funded Study of Human Missing Links

Make Missing Links Morph: National Geographic Channel's
Interactive on Extreme Evolution

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Common Ancestor Of Humans, Modern Primates?
'Extraordinary' Fossil Is 47 Million Years Old

ScienceDaily (May 19, 2009)
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Scientists have found a 47-million-year-old human ancestor. Dis-
covered in Messel Pit, Germany, the fossil, described as Darwinius
masillae, is 20 times older than most fossils that explain human

Known as "Ida," the fossil is a transitional species - it shows
characteristics from the very primitive non-human evolutionary
line (prosimians, such as lemurs), but is more related to the human
evolutionary line (anthropoids, such as monkeys, apes and humans).

At 95% complete, the fossil provides the most complete understand-
ing of the paleobiology of any Eocene primate so far discovered.


Ida lived 47 million years ago at a critical period in Earth's history
-the Eocene Epoch, a time when the blueprints for modern mammals
were being established.


Ida was found to be lacking two of the key anatomical features found
in lemurs: a grooming claw on the second digit of the foot, and a fused
row of teeth in the middle of her lower jaw known as a toothcomb. She
has nails rather than the claw typical of non-anthropoid primates such
as lemurs, and her teeth are similar to those of monkeys.

Her forward facing eyes are like ours - which would have enabled her
fields of vision to overlap, allowing 3D vision and an ability to judge

The fossil's hands show a humanlike opposable thumb. Like all primates,
Ida has five fingers on each hand. Her opposable thumb would have pro-
vided a 'precision grip'. In Ida's case, this is useful for climbing and
gathering fruit; in our case, it allows important human functions such as
making tools, and writing.

Ida would have also had flexible arms, which would have allowed her to
use both hands for any task that cannot be done with one - like grabbing
a piece of fruit. Like us, Ida also has quite short arms and legs.

Evidence in the talus bone links Ida to us. The bone has the same shape
as in humans today. Only the human talus is obviously bigger.


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