Remember Ida? The fossil hailed as the “eighth wonder of the world” whose “impact on the world of palaeontology” would be like “an asteroid falling down to Earth”? She was promised to be “the link that connects us directly with the rest of the animal kingdom.” She was touted on a History Channel / BBC documentary, but then there was the bust. Well, Ida’s critics have now gotten around to publishing technical articles critiquing the hyped view promoted to the public last year. A recent news release at the University of Texas, “Recently Analyzed Fossil Was Not Human Ancestor As Claimed, Anthropologists Say,” explains:
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.