Stories tagged missing link

Mar
04
2010

Missing Link - Not

Darwinius masillae
Darwinius masillaeCourtesy University of Oslo
Perhaps taking advantage of the Darwin publicity last year (200th birthday), a scientific paper was published revealing Ida, a 47 million year old fossil classified Darwinius masillae.
The study's lead author, Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo, variously called the fossil the holy grail of paleontology and the lost ark of archeology. A two-hour documentary called "The Link" was on the History Channel and a book with the same title hit bookstores.

One million dollars

How big money became mixed with science is described in the Guardian post titled Deal in Hamburg bar led scientist to Ida fossil, the 'eighth wonder of the world'.
Now that money has been made, it is time for the scientific process (peer review).

John Fleagle, a professor at Stony Brook University, in New York state, who reviewed the paper for the journal, agrees that the fossil is not a lemur. But Ida's full significance would not be known until other scientists had seen the paper. "That will be sorted out, or at least debated extensively, in the coming years."

Confirmed: Fossil Ida is not a human ancestor

In a paper in the Journal of Human Evolution, Chris Kirk strongly argue(d) that Darwinius is not one of our ancestors. Science blogger, Brian Switek, also explains why ... That "Ida" is Not Our Great-Great-Great-Great-Etc. Grandmother. Dissenting scientists are awaiting a response from Jørn Hurum.

How science should be done

I am reminded of another case where the media was used to hype a story before it was properly reviewed by others. I wrote about it here: Jesus and family found in tomb? What moral is to be learned here?

Don't announce discoveries through the media, but through the tried and tested peer-review process.

According to this National Geographic article, new evidence gleaned from the fossils of an early hominid species (Ardipithecus ramidus) makes the old 'human-chimp-common-ancestor' theory "irrelevant".

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.