The missing link: Darwinius masillae, Sweet as Apple cider

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The sound of the name “Ida” has suddenly become  sweet sweet music to paleontololical ears.

This is because “Ida,” a 47 million year old fossil hidden in a closet for 20+ years has recently been unveiled. Apparently, a team of amateur fossil hunters discovered the fossil, which was astonishingly intact (even down to stomach contents) in Germany  in 1983, but had no earthly idea—the dummies—what  they had on their hands.

Skip ahead 24 years, and the University of Oslo buys the fossil at auction for around a million dollars. There, Jorn Hurum of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway, names his prize “Ida” after his daughter, and  studies it in secret for two years. Until this month, when he revealed it to the world.  

Hurum believes that little “Ida,” barely the size of an average housecat, may prove to be the bridge between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans. Oh yes, and lemurs.

The author of BV doesn’t know about you, dear readers, but she gets an odd sort of kick out of the notion that she’s distantly but directly descended from a lemur. In fact, several of her cousins have distinctly lemur-like characteristics, so it does not seem all that far fetched.    

According to National Geographic 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. But there’s a big gap in the fossil record from this time period….”

Sadly, the author’s dreams of lemus ancestry were shattered a bit when she learned that 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.” And that according to one American  expert, Ida may not be “our grand, grand, grandmother, but perhaps with our grand, grand, grand aunt.”  Sigh. But that’s still pretty darned grand, isn’t it?

Ida’s European origins are intriguing to experts, because her extreme age and advanced evolutionary characteristics prove that “contrary to common assumptions…  the continent was an important area for primate evolution.” In fact, “This specimen is like finding the Lost Ark for archeologists,” Hurum said: “it is the scientific equivalent of the Holy Grail. This fossil will probably be the one that will be pictured in all textbooks for the next 100 years.”

And what does all this science mean for us laypeople? Well, dear readers, it’s really quite simple: you may now commence with Germanic-monkey jokes. At your leisure.

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Filed under academia, extinct species, Uncategorized

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