May
19
2009

Darwinius  masillae
Darwinius masillaeCourtesy PLoS
There you were, thinking that lemurs were barely your relatives. It’s okay, I understand. I mean, Prosimians? Really? Sure, we’re all members of the primate family, but, like, two steps removed, like those cousins in Kentucky your mom pretends don’t exist. Or something. Prosimians are the non-human evolutionary line, how primitive. Prosimians are like NASCAR, and Anthropoids, like apes and humans, are like the DAR.

But, just like every president has an embarrassing brother, so too are we related to those furry simple primates. Now, we have proof! Scientists have found a 47 million years old human ancestor, the link between these early primates and human evolutionary lineage.

“Ida,” or Darwinius masillae, was actually discovered in 1983 by a private collector, although the fossil now belongs to the Natural History Museum of Oslo. An international team of scientists has been secretly conducting an in-depth study of Ida for the past two years. Now her skeleton is 95 percent complete.The fossil is significantly older than most fossils that explain human evolution, and, unlike Lucy and other famous primate fossils, this fossil was not found in Africa’s Cradle of Mankind; Ida is a European fossil (someone call Guinness, I just set a world record for using the word “fossil” the most times in a sentence).

Arms and hands of Darwinius  masillae
Arms and hands of Darwinius masillaeCourtesy PLoS
Ida was preserved with a full stomach, so we know that she was an herbivore. I hope that in 47 million years, scientists discover me and determine that humans subsisted mainly on a diet of Cheetos and grape soda. That would be pretty awesome. Her skeleton is pretty similar to that of modern-day lemurs, but she lacks a grooming claw and a row of teeth fused together called a “toothcomb.” She also has nails instead of claws, and teeth similar to small monkeys. She had forward facing eyes, like ours, and opposable thumbs.

Foot structure of Darwinius masillae
Foot structure of Darwinius masillaeCourtesy PLoS
What really links Ida to humans is a bone in her foot, called the talus. Her talus is nearly identical to your talus, only a lot smaller. Ida serves as a sort of “missing link,” a key part of the story of human evolution. So, you know, no big.

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Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

mdr's picture
mdr says:

A documentary about Ida will play on the History Channel on Memorial Day. Check your local listings for exact times. In the meantime, here's a link to the film's official website.

posted on Wed, 05/20/2009 - 9:33am
Thor's picture
Thor says:

In this day and age, I guess it's predictable that a controversy would brew up in regard to this new fossil find. This article chronicles the opinions of other scientists who say that there's nothing substantially new to learn from this discovery and that the hype machine is working overtime to create TV audiences and book buyers. Or could it be professional jealousies? What do you think?

posted on Fri, 05/22/2009 - 10:13am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

More than likely a little of both.

posted on Fri, 05/22/2009 - 11:00am
Ana's picture
Ana says:

Here is a link to a discussion on how scientists can use mass media to their advantage, keeping in mind that there can be some pitfalls. Especially if their statements blow things out of proportion, as seems to be the case with the reports on the Ida research. Sorry this link is so long, hope it works.
http://www.the-scientist.com/templates/trackable/display/blog.jsp?type=b...

posted on Fri, 05/22/2009 - 11:41am

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