The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestors

Meet “Ida,” the small “missing link” found in Germany that’s created a big media splash and will likely continue to make waves among those who study human origins. In this documentary paleontologist Jorn Hurum, who led the team that analyzed the 47-million-year-old fossil seen above, suggests Ida is a critical missing-link species in primate evolution.

The fossil, he says, bridges the evolutionary split between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans and their more distant relatives such as lemurs. “This is the first link to all humans,” Hurum, of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway, said in a statement. Ida represents “the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor.” Ida, properly known as Darwinius masillae, has a unique anatomy. The lemur-like skeleton features primate-like characteristics, including grasping hands, opposable thumbs, clawless digits with nails, and relatively short limbs. “This specimen looks like a really early fossil monkey that belongs to the group that includes us,” said Brian Richmond, a biological anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study, published this week in the journal PLoS ONE.

But there’s a big gap in the fossil record from this time period, Richmond noted. Researchers are unsure when and where the primate group that includes monkeys, apes, and humans split from the other group of primates that includes lemurs. “[Ida] is one of the important branching points on the evolutionary tree,” Richmond said, “but it’s not the only branching point.” At least one aspect of Ida is unquestionably unique: her incredible preservation, unheard of in specimens from the Eocene era, when early primates underwent a period of rapid evolution. (Explore a prehistoric time line.) “From this time period there are very few fossils, and they tend to be an isolated tooth here or maybe a tailbone there,” Richmond explained. “So you can’t say a whole lot of what that [type of fossil] represents in terms of evolutionary history or biology.”

In Ida’s case, scientists were able to examine fossil evidence of fur and soft tissue and even picked through the remains of her last meal: fruits, seeds, and leaves. What’s more, the newly described “missing link” was found in Germany’s Messel Pit. Ida’s European origins are intriguing, Richmond said, because they could suggest – contrary to common assumptions – that the continent was an important area for primate evolution.

From The Web
Join The Conversation
  • Curt

    No < at beginning of code!?

  • abercrombie and fitch layouts

    useful advice. I’m going to submit a link of this podcast on my blackboard web site for my students. Everything you said operates for discussion boards too. Quite a few thanks !

  • Hummm?? We shall be watch as you try to assemble a fuzzy scientific proof for one species evolving into another from the fossil record based on this chimp. The attempts of empirical scientific proofs based on similarities in the genome of different species shows no scientific proof about the original creation of each species. The connect is pure speculation based on faith in your theory, actually as scientific as creationist faith in Creationism. As it stand to date, not one scintilla of scientific proof of one species evolving into another exists. I am looking forward to see what you concoct as a scientific proof for this chimp being my uncle, you ought to have called it Bob, Bob’s your uncle.

    • Ann Rhodes

      That you refer to Ida as a chimp illustrates you refuse to objectively evaluate anything free of your ignorant presuppositions. But I’ll humor you: the Sp. K172 strain of Flavobacterium, otherwise known as nylon-eating bacteria. They were discovered in the waste water pond of a Japanese nylon factory in 1975, and are only capable of digesting a small number of specific nylon byproducts. This was due to three enzymes that were completely unique to Sp. K172, and were nothing like what any other Flavobacterium possessed. These byproducts didn’t exist before the invention of nylon in 1935. Speciation occurred in at most forty years.

      This process of evolving the capability to digest nylon was replicated in a lab with a completely different species of bacteria known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The interesting thing is that the bacteria in question were not only completely different genus from Flavobacterium, but developed the capability using completely different enzymes from Sp. K172.

  • Vesper Meeps

    Correct me if I’m wrong michael kinsey but to my knowledge the speculations that issue from creationist faiths as opposed to those that issue from scientific ones can perhaps best be compared to the difference between a tentative voice in its authorative mode and that of a dogmatic one in its. In other words, scientific voices rate the probabilites that factor into their statements on a scale and creationist voices factor that probability as a certainty; which isn’t to say you’ll never find scientists behaving like creationists. Fundamentalists come in a wide variety of personas.