Saturday, May 23, 2009

Scientists find the Missing Link

A team of researchers unveiled an almost perfectly intact fossil of a 47 million-year-old primate they say represents the long-sought "missing link" between humans and apes. Officially known as Darwinius masillae, the fossil of the lemur-like creature dubbed "Ida" shows it had opposable thumbs like humans and fingernails instead of claws.

A team of amateur fossil hunters discovered the near-perfect remains inside a mile-wide crater outside of Frankfurt in 1983. Experts believe the pit was a volcanic caldera where scores of animals from the Eocene epoch died by breathing noxious volcanic fumes that kept their remains remarkably well-preserved.

Though the pit has been a bountiful source of other fossils, the inexperienced archaeologists did not realize the value of their find. Years later, the University of Oslo bought the 95%-intact fossil, and Hurum studied it in secret for two years. "We're not dealing with our grand, grand, grandmother, but perhaps with our grand, grand, grand aunt," Jens Franzen said.

The unveiling of the Ida fossil came as part of a carefully-orchestrated publicity campaign unusual for scientific discoveries.

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