In storm of media hype, including a special tribute from Google, a new little adapiform fossil has surfaced from Messel, Germany, formerly of Archeopteryx fame. Her name is Darwinius masillae, or ‘Ida,’ apparently. And she is beautiful:
Apparently this thing had been lingering in private collections for 23 years until it was discovered by Jorn Hurum at a sale in 2006. The skeleton is 47 million years old, making it early Eocene. And, again, it’s beautiful. The most intriguing early Eocene fossils we had before now looked more like Altiatlasius and Eosimias: handfuls of teeth and a few jaws.
Eosimias, no more media coverage for you.
The ‘missing link’ mania, though, is a bit hasty. The team that was called in the describe this fossil included, surprise-surpise, Phillip Gingrich. The team identified it as a notharctid adapiform. Gingrich is the author of theory of anthropoid origins which holds the notharctids to be the ancestors of anthropoids. Previously, Gingrich had built his theory pointing out adapiform-like features in Oligocene anthropoids from the Fayum (abetted by that site’s major paleontologist, Ewlyn Simons). Now, however, he has an incredibly well preserved notharctid and, low and behold, it seems to have “anthropoid features.” According to Gingrich, this is the fossil that proves his entire theory; it is an early adapiform that has features suggesting ancestry to anthropoids. Skepticism is warrented. Some of the response to the paper in PLoS ONE have already questioned the durability of that association. So, it’s wait and see on the ‘missing link’ angle. Still, beautiful and remarkably important fossil that primate paleontologists are going to be talking about for a number of years. I look forward to learning more.