[An announcement that a Lemur like fossil was the long sought “missing link” was made not too long ago. At the time, it was easy to predict that the “certainty” of this find would inevitably be shown to be nothing. So it has proven again (and again and again).]
Fossil hailed as Man’s ancestor is ‘not even close relative’ [Excerpt]
It was billed as one of the most important fossil finds in history, a “missing link” that would challenge everything we knew about human evolution.
Darwinius masillae, the primitive primate that was unveiled to the world with huge fanfare and a Sir David Attenborough documentary in May, seems now to have been less of a missing link than an evolutionary dead end. Far from being an ancestor to humans, the lemur-like creature from 47 million years ago belongs to an entirely different branch of the primate family tree that has left no known descendants, research has indicated.
When Jørn Hurum, of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, announced the discovery of the astonishingly well-preserved fossil, he described it as “the first link to all humans”. He nicknamed the animal “Ida” after his daughter, and a promotional website, a film and a book claimed that she could have been the common ancestor of all modern monkeys and apes, a relic of a critical branching moment in human evolution. Sir David, who narrated the documentary, said: “This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of all mammals. The link they would have said until now is missing, is no longer missing.”
The discovery of fossils of another similar animal from 37 million years ago has now cast grave doubt on that idea. Both Darwinius masillae and the new primate, Afradapis longicristatus, appear to belong to a different lineage, closer to lemurs than monkeys and apes, that died out without modern descendants.
A major analysis of 117 living and extinct primates found that neither new fossil belongs on the evolutionary path that led to the anthropoids – higher primates such as monkeys, apes and humans.
(Mark Henderson, Fossil hailed as Man’s ancestor is ‘not even close relative,’ The Times Online, October 22, 2009).