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Missing Link Found - Ida, The 47 Million-Year-Old Fossil

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  • Missing Link Found - Ida, The 47 Million-Year-Old Fossil

    Missing Link Found - Ida, The 47 Million-Year-Old Fossil

    Scientists have unveiled the missing link between humans and apes at the American Museum of Natural History, New York. The missing link is a 47 million years old primate, and the discovery has been dubbed as the Holy Grail of human evolution. The fossil is of a lemur-like animal which was nicknamed Ida, while the official name is Darwinius masillae because the creature is a proof that confirms the Theory of Evolution by Charles Darwin.

    The 47 million-year-old fossil is the missing link between man and ape as the creature had opposable thumbs, and fingernails. Ida was a lemur-like animal the size of a cat, and the hind legs shows that this primate was standing upright. All these are evidence which plead in favor of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Jorn Hurum, the scientists who had studied the fossil, compared this discovery to the Lost Ark for archeologists or the Holy Grail, and he said that the picture of Ida will be seen in textbooks at least for the next century.

    Ida was found by amateur fossil hunters in a crater located near Frankfurt in 1983, then the fossil was bought by the Univerity of Oslo, and it was studied by John Hurum, and Jens Franzen who said that this is “the eighth Wonder of the World.” This scientific discovery is probably the most important of the century so far as it really is the missing link between humans and apes. In the following days a documentary, and book will be released about Darwinius massilae.


  • #2
    Re: Missing Link Found - Ida, The 47 Million-Year-Old Fossil

    Scientists Unveil Missing Link In Evolution

    Scientists have unveiled a 47-million-year-old fossilised skeleton of a monkey hailed as the missing link in human evolution.

    The search for a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom has taken 200 years - but it was presented to the world today at a special news conference in New York.

    The discovery of the 95%-complete 'lemur monkey' - dubbed Ida - is described by experts as the "eighth wonder of the world".

    They say its impact on the world of palaeontology will be "somewhat like an asteroid falling down to Earth".

    Researchers say proof of this transitional species finally confirms Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, and the then radical, outlandish ideas he came up with during his time aboard the Beagle.

    Darwin caused storm with his theory
    Sir David Attenborough said Darwin "would have been thrilled" to have seen the fossil - and says it tells us who we are and where we came from.
    "This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of the mammals," he said.

    "This is the one that connects us directly with them.

    "Now people can say 'okay we are primates, show us the link'.

    "The link they would have said up to now is missing - well it's no longer missing."

    A team of the world's leading fossil experts, led by Professor Jorn Hurum, of Norway's National History Museum, have been secretly researching the 1ft 9in-tall young female monkey for the past two years.

    And now it has been transported to New York under high security and unveiled to the world during the bicentenary of Darwin's birth.

    Later this month, it will be exhibited for one day only at the Natural History Museum in London before being returned to Oslo.

    Scientists say Ida - squashed to the thickness of a beer mat by the immense passage of time - is the most complete primate fossil ever found.

    With her human-like nails instead of claws, and opposable big toes, she is placed at the very root of human evolution when early primates first developed features that would eventually develop into our own.

    Another important discovery is the shape of the talus bone in her foot, which humans still have in their feet millions of lifetimes later.

    Ida was unearthed by an amateur fossil-hunter some 25 years ago in Messel pit, an ancient crater lake near Frankfurt, Germany, famous for its fossils.

    This fossil is really a part of our history; this is part of our evolution, deep, deep back into the aeons of time, 47 million years ago.

    Fossil expert Professor Jorn Hurum
    She was cleaned and set in polyester resin - and incredibly, was hung on a mystery German collector's wall for 20 years.

    Sky News sources say the owner had no idea of the unique fossil's significance and simply admired it like a cherished Van Gogh or Picasso painting.

    But in 2006, Ida came into the hands of private dealer Thomas Perner, who presented her to Prof Hurum at the annual Hamburg Fossil and Mineral Fair in Germany - a centre for the murky world of fossil-trading.

    Prof Hurum said when he first saw the blueprint for evolution - the "most beautiful fossil worldwide" - he could not sleep for two days.

    A home movie records the dramatic moment.

    "This is really something that the world has never seen before, this is a unique specimen, totally unique," he says, clearly emotional.

    X-ray of Ida's badly fractured left wrist
    He says he knew she should be saved for science rather than end up hidden from the world in a wealthy private collector's vault.

    But the dealer's asking price was more than $1 million (£660,000) - ten times the amount even the rarest of fossils fetch on the black market.

    Eventually, after six months of negotiations, he managed to raise the cash in Norway and brought Ida to Oslo.

    Prof Hurum - who last summer dug up the fossil remains of a 50ft marine monster called Predator X from the permafrost on Svalbard, a Norwegian island close to the North Pole - then assembled a "dream team" of experts who worked in secret for two years.

    They included palaeontologist Dr Jens Franzen, Dr Holly Smith, of the University of Michigan, and Philip Gingerich, president-elect of the US Paleontological Society.

    Researchers could prove the fossil was genuine through X-rays, knowing it is impossible to fake the inner structure of a bone.

    Through radiometric dating of Messel's volcanic rocks, they discovered Ida lived 47 million years ago in the Eocene period.

    This was when tropical forests stretched right to the poles, and South America was still drifting and had yet to make contact with North America.

    During that period, the first whales, horses, bats and monkeys emerged, and the early primates branched into two groups - one group lived on mainly as lemurs, and the second developed into monkeys, apes and humans.

    The experts concluded Ida was not simply a lemur but a 'lemur monkey', displaying a mixture of both groups, and therefore putting her at the very branch of the human line.

    This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of the mammals. This is the one that connects us directly with them.

    Sir David Attenborough
    "When Darwin published his On the Origin of Species in 1859, he said a lot about transitional species," said Prof Hurum

    "...and he said that will never be found, a transitional species, and his whole theory will be wrong, so he would be really happy to live today when we publish Ida.

    "This fossil is really a part of our history; this is part of our evolution, deep, deep back into the aeons of time, 47 million years ago.

    "It's part of our evolution that's been hidden so far, it's been hidden because all the other specimens are so incomplete.

    "They are so broken there's almost nothing to study and now this wonderful fossil appears and it makes the story so much easier to tell, so it's really a dream come true."

    Up until now, the most famous fossil primate in the world has been Lucy, a 3.18-million-year-old hominid found in Ethiopia in 1974.

    She was then our earliest known ancestor, and only 40% complete.

    Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known.

    Bishop of Worcester's wife to Charles Darwin
    But at 95% complete, Ida was so well preserved in the mud at the bottom of the volcanic lake, there is even evidence of her fur shadow and remains of her last meal.

    From this they concluded she was a leaf and fruit eater, and probably lived in the trees around the lake.

    The absence of a bacculum (penis bone) confirmed she was female, and her milk teeth put her age at about nine-months-old - in maturity, equivalent to a six-year-old human child.

    This was the same age as Prof Hurum's daughter Ida, and he named the fossil after her.

    The study is being published and put online by the Public Library of Science, a leading academic journal with offices in Britain and the US.

    Dr Hurum also found Predator X
    Co-author of the scientific paper, Prof Gingerich, likens its importance to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, an ancient Egyptian artefact found in 1799, which allowed us to decipher hieroglyphic writing.

    One clue to Ida's fate - and her remarkable preservation as our oldest ancestor - was her badly fractured left wrist.

    The team believes this stopped her from climbing and she had to emerge from the trees to drink water from the 250-metre-deep lake.

    They think she was overcome by carbon dioxide gas from the crater, and sunk to the bottom where she was preserved in the mud as a time capsule - and a snapshot of evolution.

    But amazingly this final piece of Darwin's jigsaw was almost lost to science when German authorities tried to turn Messel into a massive landfill rubbish dump.

    Eventually, after campaigning by Dr Franzen, the plans were rejected and the fossil-rich lake was designated a World Heritage Site.

    But no doubt there would have been one person happy for the missing link to have remained hidden.

    When Darwin famously told the Bishop of Worcester's wife about his theory of evolution, she remarked: "Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known."

    Now, it certainly is.

    :: Ida's discovery has been made into an Atlantic Productions' documentary, presented by Sir David Attenborough. See more at


    • #3
      Missing Link Found - The fossil Ida – five years on

      The fossil Ida – five years on

      It’s been five years since the news of the fossil Ida was made public. What are the researcher’s thoughts about the media circus he initiated back then? And how did he deal with the anger he released in academic circles?

      By: Siw Ellen Jakobsen

      The fossil Ida

      Let us first return to the morning of May 19th, 2009:

      Associate professor Jørn Hurum of the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo arrives at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. A press conference is about to be held, about the find of a 58 centimetre long, 47 million years old fossil. It is the most complete primate fossil ever found.

      Jens L. Franzen, first author of the scientific article about the fossil, had suggested that the fossil should be named after Hurum’s five and a half year old daughter. The fossil died as it was teething, and Hurum’s daughter was also teething at that time.

      40 international TV channels

      The preceding day, Hurum and the other palaeontologists in the “Dream Team” behind the article describing Ida had visited the scene of the press conference. But as Hurum and his wife, the UiO scientist Merethe Frøyland, approach the museum the morning of the press conference, they think that there has been an accident. There are 40 cars with satellite antennae outside. A multitude of cables run into the building.

      “I knew we had a great fossil and a good story to tell. And yes, I was certainly aware that there would be some media attention. Yet I have to admit that that day’s events still seem slightly absurd,” Hurum recalls.

      BBC broadcasted the press conference live. 40 international TV channels were present. Google changed their logo for the day.

      Many were angered

      Reactions were immediate: "This is a media circus.", "Ida’s importance is exaggerated.", "The marketing is misleading."

      Jørn Hurum presenting Ida for the first time.

      The main impact was probably that John G. Fleagle, an international palaeontologist guru and the writer of some of Hurum’s textbooks, disagreed with the scientists’ conclusion.

      While they claimed that Ida represented a transitional form with anatomical features characterizing monkeys, and also apes including humans, Fleagle thought they were wrong.

      This wasn’t a monkey or an ape, but a lemur, he claimed.

      A beautiful fossil, without a doubt, but in no way scientifically revolutionary. And, perhaps above all, the fossil couldn’t shed any light on human evolution.

      In Norway, five professors of biology, some of them Hurum’s colleagues at the University of Oslo, also lashed out against him, stating that “Ida is oversold”.

      The focal point of their criticism was that the fossil was promoted as “the link”, a phrase uncomfortably close to “The missing link”, at the press conference, online, in the documentary show andin the accompanying book The Link by British science writer Colin Tudge. The professors felt it was misleading.

      The phrase "missing link" was coined in the 19th century, when claims were made that science missed the link between humans and other organisms. In modern evolutionary biology this link is thoroughly documented, so the phrase no longer has any scientific value, they claimed.

      "Simplifying is crucial"

      In the eye of the storm, Hurum managed to remain resilient. Although he admits that, for a while, the constantly ringing telephone was exhausting.

      He did, however, have the full support of both the Natural History Museum and the University of Oslo.

      “At the height of the controversy I was invited for lunch by the rector and the university director. The support I got from them meant a lot to me,” he says.

      So, don’t the critics have a point when claiming that it can hurt science’s credibility if the gap between science and outreach gets too wide?

      “Not at all. Had there been fifty palaeontologists in Norway occupying as much public space as I do, they might have had a point. But it can hardly be claimed that there is too much scientific outreach. If you want to connect with people, simplifying is crucial. If you include each and every single footnote, your outreach is unmoving,” Hurum says.

      "At the time, a professor told me that I ‘should stop vulgarising my research’, and what impresses people, is what ‘they don’t understand’. With a stance on outreach like that, you don’t get very far,” he adds.

      What about the title of the book: "The Link". Do you understand that people were provoked?

      “I rather like the title myself. Having held numerous popular presentations about evolution, I can testify that the most recurring question and one of the first to be asked, is 'Have you found the missing link yet?' The phrase is commonplace in the real world. Of course it isn’t a scientific term. But we thought it was fun to play with words.”

      “Even though lots of people disagreed with our conclusions, they could not pin any scientific errors on us”, Hurum emphasises.

      The anger abates

      In 2010, John G. Fleagle wrote an essay in a more conciliatory tone.

      He analyses the reactions to the launching of Ida, and raises the question: “Why were we really so angered?” In the essay, Fleagle reaffirms his view that Ida does not add much to our

      understanding of human evolution. Although he finds The Link a good read, he writes that the book never explains why Ida is supposed to be the most important fossil ever found.

      What made them so mad?

      Jørn Hurum confides that he has spent some time over the past five years wondering why some people were so outraged with him.

      Journalists gather around paleontologist Jørn Hurum when the Ida fossil arrives at the
      Natural History Museum in Oslo in May 2009.

      “After Fleagle’s essay were published, the worst was over. It was good to see the Number One in the field write so balanced about it.”

      In the fall of 2009, Hurum received a visit from the Danish professor Peter C. Kjærgaard, who had analysed the debate surrounding Ida.

      He made some things fall into place for Hurum.

      “Ida was by far the biggest news in the Darwin Year 2009. Many people had planned books and big meetings this year. Kjærgaard thought that we were seen to be stealing the limelight from others.”

      “The Darwin Year hadn’t really mattered that much to us, we had originally planned to publish a year earlier. When Kjærgaard mentioned this, several things fell into place for me. Up until that point, I had really never understood the passion behind the anger,” Hurum states.

      Was Jørn Hurum wrong?

      When the researchers started studying Ida, their hypothesis was that she was related to lemurs. One year later, they thought she was closer to apes and monkeys.

      Today, the pendulum has swung back, and the lemur hypothesis is now the most favored one. But there are still some, also inside the “Dream Team”, that would place her on the ape/monkey branch.

      Hurum is still on the monkey side.

      “I find the anatomical arguments more convincing for this.”

      Statistically, however, most place her on the lemur side of the divide.

      "Even the distinction between lemurs and monkeys has changed because of Ida. As she has features from both sides, the basic anatomical definitions on primates has had to change," Hurum explains.
      The future

      No one knows what the future holds for Ida.

      “This is an ongoing discussion. Until there are more good fossils as old as her, or older, she is still the most complete primate fossil ever seen. She is thus an iconic object representing our early relatives 47 million years ago.”

      Hurum points out that science is driven by disagreements

      “When everybody agrees, we're talking about religion, says Hurum,

      He concludes with a quote from the Ida debate, published in Nature: “Science moves forward funeral by funeral … almost no one ever changes their mind.”