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Amid Media Circus, Scientists Doubt ‘Ida’ Is Your Ancestor

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 20, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “LIVE SCIENCE”

You know science has made it big when the Google homepage logo is changed to celebrate a fossil finding and the mayor of New York shows up at a press conference to unveil it.

A new 47-million year old primate fossil unveiled to the world Tuesday has made waves among scientists and non-scientists. Google responded by working an image of the fossil into the logo of its search page.

The discovery was presented with much fanfare at a press conference at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where researchers called the finding a “missing link” and a publisher from Little, Brown (which put out a related book called “The Link”) called it “a scientific discovery that will undoubtedly revolutionize how we understand our own evolution.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the finding an “astonishing breakthrough.”

The mayor’s enthusiasm aside, some scientists aren’t convinced.

“What does it tell us about human evolution that we didn’t know? Precious little,” said Stonybrook University paleoanthropologist John Fleagle. But the fossil is certainly significant for what it can tell us about early primate evolution, he said.

“It’s an extraordinary fossil as an individual,” Fleagle told LiveScience. “I’m sure people will be combing over it for details for decades.”

The small body represents a roughly 9-month-old female that probably looked a lot like modern lemurs. The researchers who studied the fossil, led by Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum, nicknamed her “Ida.”

Experts are almost unanimous in their praise for the fossil’s exceptional preservation: About 95 percent of its bones are intact, and even some fur imprints and stomach contents are visible.

“The significance of this new find is it has almost every single fragment of the bones,” said Tab Rasmussen, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “[Usually] it’s very difficult to find anything besides teeth, a jaw, and bones here and there. This is something that really vaults the whole field forward.”

Controversy

While most experts agree on the beauty of the specimen, opinions diverge on how to interpret it.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “LIVE SCIENCE”

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