Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Scientists Unveil Missing Link In Evolution

Via Sky News -

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.


"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.


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 an incredible 70 million 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.


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.

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