Ida: Missing Link Or Slow News Day?

by Irma Arkus

The biggest newsbuster to come out in the world of anthropology / paleonthology is the discovery of Ida, an fossilized lemur from Eistocene period. The finely preserved lemur is 47 million years old, and is said to posses opposable thumbs and a particular bone in its foot, that ties development of simians in a single, unified swoop.

News have been all over this. The most interesting part of Ida’s story is the background of the find itself though.

Ida was apparently found over 20 years ago, and has been admired as a Picasso or a fine Gaugan in private hands of a collector. If it wasn’t for Prof Jørn Hurum, who painstakingly collected 1 millon pounds from various European parties, the fossil would have remiained in private collectors hands.

The second part of the story is the Messier quary, near Frankfurt, Germany. The site, now recognized as a World Heritage Site for its abundance in paleonthological finds, was initially recognized as a great site for refuse dumping.

And finally, the solemn conclusion of swarming interest regarding this particular find comes from the mouth of ever-genial and ever-controversial P.Z. Myers (well worth reading his blog, Pharyngula) who says:

“She’s beautiful and interesting and important, but I do have to take exception to the surprisingly frantic news coverage I’m seeing. She’s being called the “missing link in human evolution”, which is annoying. The whole “missing link” category is a bit of journalistic trumpery: almost every fossil could be called a link, and it feeds the simplistic notion that there could be a single definitive bridge between ancient and modern species. There isn’t: there is the slow shift of whole populations which can branch and diverge. It’s also inappropriate to tag this discovery to human evolution. She’s 47 million years old; she’s also a missing link in chimp evolution, or rhesus monkey evolution. She’s got wider significance than just her relationship to our narrow line.”

Well said Mr. Myers. Well said indeed.