May 19, 2009

One Step Closer...maybe

A 47 million year old fossil discovered sometime in the 1980's has recently been brought of a private collection and put on display in NYC. The specimen, nicknamed 'Ida', is a lemur-like creature that could close the gap in the fossil record between ancient primates and their modern descendants. While most likely not in the direct line of human evolution, she's an important step nonetheless:

"The team concluded that she was not simply another lemur, but a new species. They have called her Darwinius masillae, to celebrate her place of origin and the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin.

Dr Jens Franzen, an expert on the Messel Pit and a member of the team, described Ida as "like the Eighth Wonder of the World", because of the extraordinary completeness of the skeleton.
It was information "palaeontologists can normally only dream of", he said.

In addition, Ida bears "a close resemblance to ourselves" he said, with nails instead of claws, a
grasping hand and an opposable thumb - like humans and some other primates. But he said some aspects of the teeth indicate she is not a direct ancestor - more of an "aunt" than a "grandmother".
"She belongs to the group from which higher primates and human beings developed but my impression is she is not on the direct line."

Others, such as Dr. Chris Beard of the Carnegie Natural History Museum, are less impressed:

"Dr Beard has not yet seen scientific details of the find but said that it would be very nice to have a beautiful new fossil from the Eocene and that Ida would be "a welcome new addition" to the world of early primates.

But he added: "I would be absolutely dumbfounded if it turns out to be a potential ancestor to humans."

Either way, there will be many research papers and even a special documentary concerning Ida in the upcoming months. Perhaps along the way, we can get one step closer to our own mysterious, shared past.

1 comment:

  1. One of the coolest things I've found out about Ida is that her stomach contains her last meal: fruit and leaves. I got that from over at the blog Pharyngula.