The Missing Link - No Longer Missing!

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The Missing Link - No Longer Missing!

Postby Zep Tepi » Tue May 19, 2009 5:36 pm

Wow, they kept this one well under wraps, didn't they?
A HUGELY signficant step on our journey of discovering where we came from, no?

As Margaret Thatcher once said, "Rejoice in this news!"

Missing Link Found

Scientists have unveiled a 47-million-year-old fossilised skeleton of a monkey hailed as the missing link in human evolution.

The search for a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom has taken 200 years - but it was presented to the world today at a special news conference in New York.

The discovery of the 95%-complete 'lemur monkey' - dubbed Ida - is described by experts as the "eighth wonder of the world".

They say its impact on the world of palaeontology will be "somewhat like an asteroid falling down to Earth".

Researchers say proof of this transitional species finally confirms Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, and the then radical, outlandish ideas he came up with during his time aboard the Beagle.

Sir David Attenborough said Darwin "would have been thrilled" to have seen the fossil - and says it tells us who we are and where we came from.

"This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of the mammals," he said.

"This is the one that connects us directly with them.

"Now people can say 'okay we are primates, show us the link'.

"The link they would have said up to now is missing - well it's no longer missing."

A team of the world's leading fossil experts, led by Professor Jorn Hurum, of Norway's National History Museum, have been secretly researching the 1ft 9in-tall young female monkey for the past two years.

And now it has been transported to New York under high security and unveiled to the world during the bicentenary of Darwin's birth.

Later this month, it will be exhibited for one day only at the Natural History Museum in London before being returned to Oslo.

Scientists say Ida - squashed to the thickness of a beer mat by the immense passage of time - is the most complete primate fossil ever found.

With her human-like nails instead of claws, and opposable big toes, she is placed at the very root of human evolution when early primates first developed features that would eventually develop into our own.

Another important discovery is the shape of the talus bone in her foot, which humans still have in their feet an incredible 70 million lifetimes later.

Ida was unearthed by an amateur fossil-hunter some 25 years ago in Messel pit, an ancient crater lake near Frankfurt, Germany, famous for its fossils.

She was cleaned and set in polyester resin - and incredibly, was hung on a mystery German collector's wall for 20 years.

Sky News sources say the owner had no idea of the unique fossil's significance and simply admired it like a cherished Van Gogh or Picasso painting.

But in 2006, Ida came into the hands of private dealer Thomas Perner, who presented her to Prof Hurum at the annual Hamburg Fossil and Mineral Fair in Germany - a centre for the murky world of fossil-trading.

Prof Hurum said when he first saw the blueprint for evolution - the "most beautiful fossil worldwide" - he could not sleep for two days.

A home movie records the dramatic moment.

"This is really something that the world has never seen before, this is a unique specimen, totally unique," he says, clearly emotional.

He says he knew she should be saved for science rather than end up hidden from the world in a wealthy private collector's vault.

But the dealer's asking price was more than $1 million (£660,000) - ten times the amount even the rarest of fossils fetch on the black market.

Eventually, after six months of negotiations, he managed to raise the cash in Norway and brought Ida to Oslo.

Prof Hurum - who last summer dug up the fossil remains of a 50ft marine monster called Predator X from the permafrost on Svalbard, a Norwegian island close to the North Pole - then assembled a "dream team" of experts who worked in secret for two years.

They included palaeontologist Dr Jens Franzen, Dr Holly Smith, of the University of Michigan, and Philip Gingerich, president-elect of the US Paleontological Society.

Researchers could prove the fossil was genuine through X-rays, knowing it is impossible to fake the inner structure of a bone.

Through radiometric dating of Messel's volcanic rocks, they discovered Ida lived 47 million years ago in the Eocene period.

This was when tropical forests stretched right to the poles, and South America was still drifting and had yet to make contact with North America.

During that period, the first whales, horses, bats and monkeys emerged, and the early primates branched into two groups - one group lived on mainly as lemurs, and the second developed into monkeys, apes and humans.

The experts concluded Ida was not simply a lemur but a 'lemur monkey', displaying a mixture of both groups, and therefore putting her at the very branch of the human line.

"When Darwin published his On the Origin of Species in 1859, he said a lot about transitional species," said Prof Hurum

"...and he said that will never be found, a transitional species, and his whole theory will be wrong, so he would be really happy to live today when we publish Ida.

"This fossil is really a part of our history; this is part of our evolution, deep, deep back into the aeons of time, 47 million years ago.

"It's part of our evolution that's been hidden so far, it's been hidden because all the other specimens are so incomplete.

"They are so broken there's almost nothing to study and now this wonderful fossil appears and it makes the story so much easier to tell, so it's really a dream come true."

Up until now, the most famous fossil primate in the world has been Lucy, a 3.18-million-year-old hominid found in Ethiopia in 1974.

She was then our earliest known ancestor, and only 40% complete.

But at 95% complete, Ida was so well preserved in the mud at the bottom of the volcanic lake, there is even evidence of her fur shadow and remains of her last meal.

From this they concluded she was a leaf and fruit eater, and probably lived in the trees around the lake.

The absence of a bacculum (penis bone) confirmed she was female, and her milk teeth put her age at about nine-months-old - in maturity, equivalent to a six-year-old human child.

This was the same age as Prof Hurum's daughter Ida, and he named the fossil after her.

The study is being published and put online by the Public Library of Science, a leading academic journal with offices in Britain and the US.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Prof Gingerich, likens its importance to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, an ancient Egyptian artefact found in 1799, which allowed us to decipher hieroglyphic writing.

One clue to Ida's fate - and her remarkable preservation as our oldest ancestor - was her badly fractured left wrist.

The team believes this stopped her from climbing and she had to emerge from the trees to drink water from the 250-metre-deep lake.

They think she was overcome by carbon dioxide gas from the crater, and sunk to the bottom where she was preserved in the mud as a time capsule - and a snapshot of evolution.

But amazingly this final piece of Darwin's jigsaw was almost lost to science when German authorities tried to turn Messel into a massive landfill rubbish dump.

Eventually, after campaigning by Dr Franzen, the plans were rejected and the fossil-rich lake was designated a World Heritage Site.

But no doubt there would have been one person happy for the missing link to have remained hidden.

When Darwin famously told the Bishop of Worcester's wife about his theory of evolution, she remarked: "Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known."

Now, it certainly is.

:: Ida's discovery has been made into an Atlantic Productions' documentary, presented by Sir David Attenborough.


Man, it hung on a wall for twenty years... :shock:

Visit the source link for more information and links regarding this story.

Cheers,
Steve
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Re: The Missing Link - No Longer Missing!

Postby Zep Tepi » Tue May 19, 2009 7:40 pm

It appears I made a RU-cardinal sin in my post above - I failed to check others sources before getting all excited. After reading the article below, I'm left wondering what the fuss is all about. It is an exciting find of course, but it remains to be seen if the initial euphoria may in fact have been misplaced.

BBC - Scientists Hail Stunning Fossil

The beautifully preserved remains of a 47-million-year-old, lemur-like creature have been unveiled in the US.

The preservation is so good, it is possible to see the outline of its fur and even traces of its last meal.

The fossil, nicknamed Ida, is claimed to be a "missing link" between today's higher primates - monkeys, apes and humans - and more distant relatives.

But some independent experts, awaiting an opportunity to see the new fossil, are sceptical of the claim.

And they have been critical of the hype surrounding the presentation of Ida.

The fossil was launched amid great fanfare at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, by the city's mayor.

Although details of the fossil have only just been published in a scientific journal - PLoS One - there is already a TV documentary and book tie-in.

Ida was discovered in the 1980s in a fossil treasure-trove called Messel Pit, near Darmstadt in Germany. For much of the intervening period, it has been in a private collection.

The investigation of the fossil's significance was led by Jorn Hurum of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway.

He said the fossil creature was "the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor" and described the discovery as "a dream come true".

The female animal lived during an epoch in Earth history known as the Eocene, which was crucial for the development of early primates - and at first glance, Ida resembles a lemur.

But the creature lacks primitive features such as a so-called "toothcomb", a specialised feature in which the lower incisor and canine teeth are elongated, crowded together and projecting forward. She also lacks a special claw used for grooming.

The team concluded that she was not simply another lemur, but a new species. They have called her Darwinius masillae, to celebrate her place of origin and the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin.

Dr Jens Franzen, an expert on the Messel Pit and a member of the team, described Ida as "like the Eighth Wonder of the World", because of the extraordinary completeness of the skeleton.

It was information "palaeontologists can normally only dream of", he said.

In addition, Ida bears "a close resemblance to ourselves" he said, with nails instead of claws, a grasping hand and an opposable thumb - like humans and some other primates. But he said some aspects of the teeth indicate she is not a direct ancestor - more of an "aunt" than a "grandmother".

"She belongs to the group from which higher primates and human beings developed but my impression is she is not on the direct line."

Independent experts are keen to see the new fossil but somewhat sceptical of any claim that it could be "a missing link".

Dr Henry Gee, a senior editor at the journal Nature, said the term itself was misleading and that the scientific community would need to evaluate its significance.

"It's extremely nice to have a new find and it will be well-studied," he said. But he added that it was not likely to be in the same league as major discoveries such as "Flores man" or feathered dinosaurs.

Dr Chris Beard, curator of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and author of The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey, said he was "awestruck" by the publicity machine surrounding the new fossil.

He argued that it could damage the popularisation of science if the creature was not all that it was hyped up to be.

Dr Beard has not yet seen scientific details of the find but said that it would be very nice to have a beautiful new fossil from the Eocene and that Ida would be "a welcome new addition" to the world of early primates.

But he added: "I would be absolutely dumbfounded if it turns out to be a potential ancestor to humans."

In the PLoS paper itself, the scientists do not actually claim the specimen represents a direct ancestor to us. But Dr Hurum believes that is exactly what Ida is.

He told BBC News that the key to proving this lay in the detail of the foot. The shape of a bone in the foot called the talus looks "almost anthropoid".

He said the team was now planning a 3D reconstruction of the foot which would prove this.

"We're not finished with this specimen yet," said Dr Hurum. "There will be plenty more papers coming out."
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Re: The Missing Link - No Longer Missing!

Postby You Can Call Me Ray » Tue May 19, 2009 8:08 pm

Zep Tepi wrote:It appears I made a RU-cardinal sin in my post above - I failed to check others sources before getting all excited. After reading the article below, I'm left wondering what the fuss is all about. It is an exciting find of course, but it remains to be seen if the initial euphoria may in fact have been misplaced.


So, Steve.... are you then saying that the "time for debate" is NOT YET OVER? :)

Could it possibly be that the "science is NOT settled" on this find yet? :wink:

And yet some folks think we can make claims of "science being settled" in a case where we have no direct evidence, only computer models, and the direct evidence taken from core samples disputes the computer models.

Amazing how two different areas of science can behave so... differently!
Ray
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Re: The Missing Link - No Longer Missing!

Postby longhaircowboy » Thu May 21, 2009 9:37 pm

The science is definitly not settled its just gettin started.
http://www.livescience.com/animals/0905 ... tions.html
"What does it tell us about human evolution that we didn't know? Precious little," said Stonybrook University paleoanthropologist John Fleagle. But the fossil is certainly significant for what it can tell us about early primate evolution, he said.

Theres more to it.
"On the whole I think the evidence is less than convincing," said Chris Gilbert, a paleoanthropologist at Yale University. "They make an intriguing argument but I would definitely say that the consensus is not in favor of the hypothesis they're proposing."


"They claim in the paper that by examining the anatomy of adapids, these animals have something to do with the direct line of human ancestry and living monkeys and apes. This claim is buttressed with almost no evidence," said paleontologist Richard Kay of Duke University. "And they failed to cite a body of literature that's been going on since at least 1984 that presents evidence against their hypothesis."

Kay said the researchers did not compare Ida to other important fossil primates from this time, especially those from a group called Eosimiads, that could contradict their claims.


"This fossil has been hailed as the eighth wonder of the world. Frankly I've got 10 more in my basement," said Chris Beard, a curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.


"It's not a missing link, it's not even a terribly close relative to monkeys, apes and humans, which is the point they're trying to make," Beard said.



Yeah looks like its just getting started.
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