Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

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”

Scientists hail stunning fossil

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 19, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “BBC NEWS”

The beautifully preserved remains of a 47-million-year-old, lemur-like creature have been unveiled in the US.

The preservation is so good, it is possible to see the outline of its fur and even traces of its last meal.

The fossil, nicknamed Ida, is claimed to be a “missing link” between today’s higher primates – monkeys, apes and humans – and more distant relatives.

But some independent experts, awaiting an opportunity to see the new fossil, are sceptical of the claim.

And they have been critical of the hype surrounding the presentation of Ida.

The fossil was launched amid great fanfare at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, by the city’s mayor.

Although details of the fossil have only just been published in a scientific journal – PLoS One – there is already a TV documentary and book tie-in.

Ida was discovered in the 1980s in a fossil treasure-trove called Messel Pit, near Darmstadt in Germany. For much of the intervening period, it has been in a private collection.

The investigation of the fossil’s significance was led by Jorn Hurum of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway.

He said the fossil creature was “the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor” and described the discovery as “a dream come true”.

The female animal lived during an epoch in Earth history known as the Eocene, which was crucial for the development of early primates – and at first glance, Ida resembles a lemur.

But the creature lacks primitive features such as a so-called “toothcomb”, a specialised feature in which the lower incisor and canine teeth are elongated, crowded together and projecting forward. She also lacks a special claw used for grooming.

The team concluded that she was not simply another lemur, but a new species. They have called her Darwinius masillae, to celebrate her place of origin and the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin.

Dr Jens Franzen, an expert on the Messel Pit and a member of the team, described Ida as “like the Eighth Wonder of the World”, because of the extraordinary completeness of the skeleton.

It was information “palaeontologists can normally only dream of”, he said.

In addition, Ida bears “a close resemblance to ourselves” he said, with nails instead of claws, a grasping hand and an opposable thumb – like humans and some other primates. But he said some aspects of the teeth indicate she is not a direct ancestor – more of an “aunt” than a “grandmother”.


READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “BBC NEWS”

Tagged with: , ,