Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ida, our earliest ancestor?

As a kid, I spent countless hours walking through fields, digging through rubble, in search of fossils. At the time, I was literally obsessed with dinosaurs; the only books I read where about dinosaurs and the walls of my bedroom were covered with posters of dinosaurs. I even had my own little "museum", where I would display the fossils and bones I found. My uncle, a trained geologist working in the oil business, would sometimes visit us, and I would literally drag him to my bedroom to have him inspect my newest treasures. To hear him date my stones made my head spin: 200 million years old! To a kid, it's difficult to imagine what these numbers mean.

Later, in my teenage years, my interest gradually shifted to more tangible historical periods, that I could actually relate to. A teacher at university would talk about the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and I immediately knew which ancestor was living in that specific age. Yet, the world of dinosaurs and fossils never really quit me.

From Lucy to Ida

Hence, I am also thrilled to read about Ida, a truly spectacular fossil of a monkey-like creature that has been presented today to the press. Scientists tentatively state that Ida is about 47 million years old, and that this particular animal could be the missing link in evolutionary history. The fossil was dug up in a pit in Messel (Germany) by an amateur, who sold it to a wealthy collector. Only recently, a team of scientists have gained access to the fossil and used their expertise to examine this spectacular finding.
Until now, the earliest remains of a being that paleontologists regarded as an ancestor of modern man were those of Lucy, a monkey-like creature that live 3.18 million years ago in the steps of Ethiopia. Her skeleton was only 40% complete.
Ida's remains, however, are 95% complete, and thus offer a wealth of opportunities for scientists to add weight to their theories on evolution.
You can see pictures of this spectacularly beautiful fossil here:

Our ancestor?

For me as a genealogist, the thought that Ida could be one of my ancestors is an exciting one. If she is indeed the the missing link that connects primitive mamals to human-like creatures, it raises so many complicated questions regarding human nature, that I as an individual cannot possibly have any meaningful answers to. Therefore, I'll just lean back, and look at the beautiful images of this phenomenal fossil.

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