Very Old Primate Fossil Is Very Big Deal

Say hello to “Ida,” the small, 47 million-year-old fossil unearthed in Germany and unveiled yesterday at a news conference in New York. She’s a fascinating and important find—and she’s now a media darling (thanks to a huge publicity campaign), with her own Web site, book, and History Channel documentary.
Why is she so fascinating, besides the fact that she’s so old? Her anatomy puts her at a bridge point between two groups of primates: the haplorhines, which include monkeys, apes, and humans, and the strepsirrhines, which include lemurs. Ida, formally known as Darwinius masillae, has features from the strepsirrhine line (like lemurs) but is more related to the human evolutionary line, the research team argues. They say she appears to be a very early haplorhine, with forward-facing eyes, opposable thumbs, fingertips with nails, and an ankle bone like ours, only smaller. While her skeleton is like a lemur’s, she doesn’t have the characteristic “grooming claw” on her second toe or a fused row of teeth called a “toothcomb.”
She’s also remarkably well preserved. Ida is about 95 percent complete, which means scientists have been able to get lots of information from her. They’re able to see almost all her bones, remnants of tissue and hair, and what she had for her last meal (fruit and leaves).

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Category: Discoveries

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