This is my third post on the remarkable fossil of the lemur named "Ida." My original post lampooned the breathless excitement and characteristic overstatements from some within the scientific community. I believed then and believe now that those statements deserved lampooning.
Just to refresh your memory:
"This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of the mammals."
"The link they would have said up to now is missing - well it's no longer missing."
"This fossil is really a part of our history; this is part of our evolution, deep, deep back into the aeons of time, 47 million years ago."
Chris Beard, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, has written in New Scientist:
Unbridled hoopla attended the unveiling of a 47-million-year-old fossil primate skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on 19 May. Found by private collectors in 1983 in Messel, Germany, the press immediately hailed the specimen as a "missing link" and even the "eighth wonder of the world."...The next time they dig up a cool fossil of a monkey and excitedly claim it as a human ancestor then I shall lampoon once again.
But this does not necessarily make Ida a close relative of anthropoids – the group of primates that includes monkeys, apes – and humans. In order to establish that connection, Ida would have to have anthropoid-like features that evolved after anthropoids split away from lemurs and other early primates. Here, alas, Ida fails miserably.
So, Ida is not a "missing link" – at least not between anthropoids and more primitive primates. Further study may reveal her to be a missing link between other species of Eocene adapiforms, but this hardly solidifies her status as the "eighth wonder of the world".
Instead, Ida is a remarkably complete specimen that promises to teach us a great deal about the biology of some of the earliest and least human-like of all known primates, the Eocene adapiforms. For this, we can all celebrate her discovery as a real advance for science.