Have paleontologists unearthed the missing link?


Evolution headlines may not pack the same punch that they once did*, but that hasn't stopped everyone from jumping on the "missing link" bandwagon on this particular slow news day in May.

All the fuss is over "Ida," the 47-million-year-old lemur-like creature discovered in Germany in the 1980s. For most of that time, it lingered in a private collection, but now, decades later, this fossil is finally in the spotlight. Yep, there's already a book deal, a David Attenborough documentary, an American Museum of Natural History display and a snazzy website to help promote it. Can a Burger King promotion be that far off?

Essentially, Philip Gingerich of the University of Michigan's Museum of Paleontology and Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo (and Predator X fame) claim that the lemur-like skeleton also exhibits traits reminiscent of the ancient Happlorrhines -- ancestors of modern monkeys, apes and humans. As such, Ida would be the missing link between higher primates and their distant relatives -- a vital point in the road map of evolution and human ascension.

Of course, you can debut your findings with the most elaborate PR imaginable, but it doesn't mean other scientists are going to necessarily agree with you. According to BBC News, a number of scientists have raised concerns over both the validity of the finding as well as the massive publicity campaign backing it.

According to the article, Dr. Chris Beard, curator of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, worries that if the findings (which he doubts) should disappoint upon closer scrutiny, the popularization of science as a whole could take a serious credibility hit.

So for the time being, all we can do is sit back and watch the scientists duke it out.

Learn more at HowStuffWorks.com: How Charles Darwin Worked How Evolution Works Is Africa the cradle of humanity? What is the Last Common Ancestor? What separates humans and chimps form other apes?


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.