A story we first previewed on May 16 has since rocketed to the heights of media hype as a team of scientists reveals “Ida,” the latest and greatest supposed missing link. But does Ida actually support “the evolution of early primates, and, ultimately, modern human beings,” as one news outlet reported?1
Another reporter raved, “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.”2
Formally identified as Darwinius masillae (in honor of Charles Darwin), the fossil originated in Germany and is purportedly 47 million years old. One scientist gave the find the nickname Ida (after his daughter).
As for a more level-headed explanation of the evolutionary excitement, the Wall Street Journal reports:
Anthropologists have long believed that humans evolved from ancient ape-like ancestors. Some 50 million years ago, two ape-like groups walked the Earth. One is known as the tarsidae, a precursor of the tarsier, a tiny, large-eyed creature that lives in Asia. Another group is known as the adapidae, a precursor of today's lemurs in Madagascar.
Based on previously limited fossil evidence, one big debate had been whether the tarsidae or adapidae group gave rise to monkeys, apes, and humans. The latest discovery bolsters the less common position that our ancient ape-like ancestor was an adapid, the believed precursor of lemurs.
Thus, rather than an apeman-like missing link that some media sources have irresponsibly implied, the real story is quite underwhelming and should in no way faze creationists. Let’s first review the facts:
--The well-preserved fossil (95 percent complete, including fossilized fur and more) is about the size of a raccoon and includes a long tail. It resembles the skeleton of a lemur (a small, tailed, tree-climbing primate). The fossil does not resemble a human skeleton.
--The fossil was found in two parts by amateur fossil hunters in 1983. It eventually made its way through fossil dealers to the research team.
--Ida has opposable thumbs, which the ABC News article states are “similar to humans’ and unlike those found on other modern mammals” (i.e., implying that opposable thumbs are evidence of evolution). Yet lemurs today have opposable thumbs (like all primates). Likewise, Ida has nails, as do other primates. And the talus bone is described as “the same shape as in humans,” despite the fact that there are other differences in the ankle structure.3
--Unlike today’s lemurs (as far as scientists know), Ida lacks the “grooming claw” and a “toothcomb” (a fused row of teeth) In fact, its teeth are more similar to a monkey’s. These are minor differences easily explained by variation within a kind.
Given these facts, it may seem incredible that anyone would hail this find as a “missing link.” Yet British naturalist David Attenborough claims:
“Now people can say, ‘Okay, you say we’re primates . . . show us the link.’ The link, they would have said until now, is missing. Well, it is no longer missing.”
Unbelievably, Attenborough claims his interpretation is “not a question of imagination.”
- Ned Potter, “Primate Fossil Could Be Key Link in Evolution,” ABC News, May 19, 2009. Back
- Alex Watts, Scientists Unveil Missing Link in Evolution, Sky News Online, May 19, 2009. Back
- J. L. Franzen, et al., “Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology,” PLoS One 4(5), 2009. Back
- Because of the location of this fossil, it may have been buried by a post-Flood period of residual catastrophism amid an unstable climate. Back
- “Fossils from the Messel site,” The Guardian, n.d. Back