Ida's Critics Demolish Claims That Fossil Is Human Evolutionary Link
A fossil that was celebrated last year as a possible "missing link" between humans and early primates is actually a forebearer of modern-day lemurs and lorises, according to two papers by scientists at The University of Texas at Austin, Duke University and the University of Chicago.
In an article now available online in the Journal of Human Evolution, four scientists present evidence that the 47-million-year-old Darwinius masillae is not a haplorhine primate like humans, apes and monkeys, as the 2009 research claimed.
They also note that the article on Darwinius published last year in the journal PLoS ONE ignores two decades of published research showing that similar fossils are actually strepsirrhines, the primate group that includes lemurs and lorises.
"Many lines of evidence indicate that Darwinius has nothing at all to do with human evolution," says Chris Kirk, associate professor of anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin. "Every year, scientists describe new fossils that contribute to our understanding of primate evolution. What's amazing about Darwinius is, despite the fact that it's nearly complete, it tells us very little that we didn't already know from fossils of closely related species."
The big question now is, will BBC and The History Channel publish documentaries retracting their prior claims about Ida's importance as a "human ancestor," or will they leave the public with the impression that Ida is a "missing link"? Perhaps they might publish a documentary about the scientific community's tendency to overhype fossils as part of a crusade for Darwin? I'm a huge fan of The History Channel (or at least I used to be when they focused on real history instead of broadcasting UFO / "2012" material), but I'm not holding my breath.