Oops: Missing link not really a missing link

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…

Erik Seiffert, of Stony Brook University in New York state, who led the study, said: “Our analysis provides no support for the claim that Darwinius is a link in the origin of higher primates, and instead indicates that, if anything, Darwinius is more relevant for our understanding of the origin of lemurs and lorises — which are our most distant primate relatives.