May 26, 2009

Ida's Missing Link Status More Hype Than Reality

By Chuck Missler

BBC1 will be airing the documentary "Ida - Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor" on Tuesday evening, bringing continued attention to the lemur-like primate that is being hailed as another missing link in human evolution.

In her day, Ida swung from the jungle branches of sub-tropical ancient Germany and probably spent her days eating and hurling nuts at unfortunate passers by. Since last week, a cast of Ida's remains have resided at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where it has basked in the adoration of her public. Another cast will go on display at London's Natural History Museum Wednesday.

Ida's remains are nothing to sniff at; she is a remarkably well preserved fossil specimen. Not only are 95 percent of her bones present, but the outline of her fur can still be seen, and the scientists who have scrutinized her since 2006 have also been able to study her soft tissues and stomach contents. That's downright astonishing for a creature that is supposed to be 47 million years old. Lucy, the famous australopithecine from Ethiopia, was just 40 percent complete after an alleged mere 3 million years. Being preserved in a hunk of rock has certainly helped Ida age gracefully.

Her excellent quality is not all that makes Ida notable. Jørn Hurum, the paleontologist who has been studying Ida at the University of Oslo, exploded excitement in the scientific community with Ida's interesting set of characteristics. Ida is similar to a lemur, one of those monkey-type creatures that liked to "move it move it" in the animated film Madagascar. However, Ida is missing some basic lemur items, most notably a grooming claw and a "tooth comb" - a row of fused lower teeth. Unlike lemurs, she also has fingernails instead of claws and a talus bone on her foot. Because of these ape-like characteristics, paleontologists see Ida's kind, dubbed Darwinius masillae in honor of Darwin's 200th birthday, as a cross between earlier primates and apes.

"Now, for the first time, an incredibly complete early primate fossil has been discovered which provides us with direct evidence of an intermediate link between the human primate lineage and earlier mammals," states The Link website. "Ida is an example of a transitional fossil between primitive primates and the prosimian and anthropoid branches, the latter of which eventually led to humans ... She is the earliest, and one of the most significant links, ever found."

"This animal has front teeth incisors like ours, like monkeys and apes and humans do," said Philip Gingerich, director of the University of Michigan's Museum of Paleontology. "It doesn't have pointed incisors like tarisers and not combed incisors like lemurs. It also has toes, and if it's a lemur it should have a grooming claw, but it doesn't."
Messel, Germany

While a great deal of fuss is being made over her fingernails, what is perhaps just as interesting as Ida herself is the area in which she was found. Ida's cat-sized remains were discovered in the 1980s in a fossil-rich volcanic lake bed in Messel, Germany. A host of interesting creatures have been discovered in the same area, including the giant squirrel-like Kopidodon that had opposable thumbs and big toes (and yet has not been presented as a potential human ancestor) and even four species of marsupials. It's interesting to know that other marsupials besides the ubiquitous road-squashed opossum have flourished outside of Australia. Little horses and crocodiles also once lived in Messel, just as they did in ancient Texas. The area has been protected for scientific study and could offer additional remarkable finds in the future.

A Missing Link?

Ultimately, though, Ida is still just an extinct primate. She couldn't do calculus or even basic algebra, and she never invented anything. The pop-science community has made a lot of noise in the press about Ida's missing link status, but not all scientists agree.

Prof Norman MacLeod and Dr Angela Milner, the Keeper and Associate Keeper of Paleontology at London's Natural History Museum, wrote for The Telegraph,
"Ida lacks some of the features common to modern lemurs, but does not appear to possess any features unique to our own lineage of anthropoid primates. This renders Ida's evolutionary status ambiguous, at best."
Other scientists have echoed similar thoughts. Primate expert Professor Matt Cartmill of Boston University said of Ida,
"What remains to be shown is that this animal had features which link it decisively to higher primates."
Roger Thomas, secretary of the US Paleontological Society, notes that paleontologists debate which early primates they believe sprouted human kind.
"According to one group of thought," he said, "we are descended from the same primates as lemurs. Another argument is that hominids evolved from another small primate, the tarsiidae."
Prof Cartmill added:
"This specimen could settle that debate but, if I had to put my money on it, my expectation would be that they will not be able to tell one way or another."
The History Channel has declared that Ida will "change history forever." Yet, while B. Holly Smith of the University of Michigan's Museum of Anthropology believes Ida is significant, she has admitted that she considers History's claim a "wild exaggeration."

In the end, Ida may be just another branch on the messy human origins bush, the one paleontologists keep hoping will become a tree.

As Jonathan Wells pointed out, Ida actually demonstrates how desperate the evolutionary community is to find evidence of human evolutionary ancestry:
"When you listen to Darwinists, they claim their theory is as well established as gravity," Wells told WND. "If that were really the case, we wouldn't be getting these startling announcements that we finally found the proof that we need. There wouldn't be any controversy. This would be like someone running up and saying, 'Stop the presses. I just saw another apple fall from the tree; Newton was right!' In the evolutionists' own framework, it's nonsense. It demonstrates their theory is not as well established as they claim."

Related Links

So Could Ida Be The True Missing Link? -
Media Blitz: 'We Found Missing Link' - WorldNetDaily
Fossil Ida's World Of Pygmy Horses And Rodents With Trunks -
'U' Professors Involved In Study Of Ancient Primate Fossil Discovery - The Michigan Daily
'Missing Link' Fossil On Display - BBC
'Ida' An Extinct Primate - And That's All - OneNewsNow
Is David Attenborough Set To Reveal The Missing Link In Human Evolution? - The Daily Mail
The Link -
Topical Bible Study: Creation/Evolution - Koinonia House