IT WAS billed as one of the most important fossil finds in history, a "missing link" that would challenge everything we knew about human evolution.
Darwinius masillae, the primitive primate that was unveiled to the world with huge fanfare and a Sir David Attenborough documentary in May, seems now to have been less of a missing link than an evolutionary dead end. Far from being an ancestor to humans, the lemur-like creature from 47 million years ago belongs to an entirely different branch of the primate family tree that has left no known descendants, research has indicated.
When Jorn Hurum, of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, announced the discovery of the astonishingly well-preserved fossil, he described it as "the first link to all humans". He nicknamed the animal "Ida" after his daughter, and a promotional website, a film and a book claimed that she could have been the common ancestor of all modern monkeys and apes, a relic of a critical branching moment in human evolution. Sir David, who narrated the documentary, said: "This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of all mammals. The link they would have said until now is missing, is no longer missing."
The discovery of fossils of another similar animal from 37 million years ago has now cast grave doubt on that idea. Both Darwinius masillae and the new primate, Afradapis longicristatus, appear to belong to a different lineage, closer to lemurs than monkeys and apes, that died out without modern descendants.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
So Ida wasn't the discovery that changed everything after all
I have been waiting patiently for this.
Sooner or later the over-the-top hype surrounding Darwinius masillae, or Ida, and its supposed importance to human evolution was going to fall apart and be exposed for what it was - bad science that had more to do with marketing than anything else.
How this particular fossil was going to change EVERYTHING was always difficult to see.
Brian Switek from the Laelaps blog set out the doubts and concerns he and many others felt about the way this discovery was marketed to the media and the public back in May here and here.
And now from this morning's issue of The Australian: