Today, scientists unveiled the discovery of a 47-million-year-old human ancestor at the American Museum of Natural History
in New York. The fossil represents a previously unknown genus and species of primate (Darwinius masillae
), and is considered a “missing link” due to having transitional primate characteristics. It is the most complete fossil primate ever found, according to scientists.
The fossil, named “Ida,” lived during the Eocene epoch in what is now Messel Pit, Germany. In 1983, she was unearthed in the mile-wide, shale pit by private collectors and sold in two parts. Only recently were both parts known (Piece A in a private museum in Wyoming, Piece B now at the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo, Norway) and recognized as the same fossil piece.
The fossil is 95 per cent complete and includes the skeleton, an outline of the creature’s body and the contents of her gut. Her life history, locomotion and diet are detailed in the article Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology
Ida was an agile, young, herbivorous, female, about the size of a small monkey, who feasted on fruit and leaves in the trees of the Messel rain forest and died, aged about nine months, at the edge of a volcanic lake. -Bex Walton of PLoS ONE
Led by Dr Jørn Hurum, of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, a team of scientists discovered that the fossil had characteristics of both Prosimians and Primates. (The group Prosimians includes all primates except monkeys and apes of the group Primates. Prosimians have more primitive characteristics than those of Primates.) Specifically, Ida had opposable big toes, fingers with nails and a talus bone that links her directly to humans. She also lacked the toothcomb and grooming claw found on Prosimians (ex. lemurs).
There has been much buzz about Ida among media organizations. She has been dubbed the “missing link,” and is already the subject of a cable television special and book deal.