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Thread: Great Aunt Ida: An Evolutionary Marvel or Hyperbole?

  1. #1 Great Aunt Ida: An Evolutionary Marvel or Hyperbole? 
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    Yes, Colin Tudge actually insists on calling Ida, the recently discovered primate of the Eocene, aka Darwinius masillae , our "great Aunt". Ida happened to belong to a German collector who had obtained her from the Messel Pit in the 80's and only in 2006 decided to sell her. The fossil sold for one million dollars to the Natural History Museum of Oslo. She is assumed to be a female due to a lack of a baculum, the bone portion of a mammal's penis which is very durable and survives fossilization. She has lemur-like qualities as well as monkey-like traits. She is apparently a mix of simian and prosimian. She has a short face with forward-facing eyes (as do humans) as opposed to the long face of a lemur, nails instead of claws, and teeth similar to those of monkeys . The fossil's hands have five fingers and exhibit human-like opposable thumbs. Also noteworthy is the fact that Ida has antemolar reduction (2 premolars per side per jaw). Virtually all primates other than humans and Old World monkeys and apes have three on each side. The shape of her skull resembles Mahgarita stevensi. She lived in a warm climate surrounded by forests of ferns and conifers until inhaling too much CO2 and falling to the bottom of the pit (then a lake) and drowning.

    What do you think about all this?


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    Ida is a useful fossil, in excellent condition, teaching us a lot about a particular phase in primate evolution. Primates generally do not fossilise well, since they do not live in areas of easy fossil formation. Hence this primate is unusual, and very useful.

    The problem is those media who make too much of it. Ida is not on the human line, as far as anyone can tell. Hence the 'Great Aunt' label. However, even that is misleading, since it implies more of a relationship than probably exists.


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