Friday, May 22, 2009

Paleontology news

The press has been all abuzz with reports of the find of a "missing link" from the Eocene. That's all press talk. The reality is that what was found was a very primitive monkey from about 45 million years ago that is, nonetheless, not a lemur, but one of the more "advanced" clades. Because fossils of this nature are rare and usually fragmentary, this is a nice find, that advances our understanding of early primates a bit. But missing link? C'mon. Is the press going to say something that inane every time a fossil monkey is found?

Darwinius masillae, the creature under discussion (colloquially known as "Ida") isn't exactly a missing link, and the sensationalist journalism that's called it such is kinda embarrassing. As Chris Beard, a paleontologist at John Hopkins University says, "It's part of the primate family tree that is about as far away from humans as you can get and still be a primate."

That said, to call it a missing link per se isn't necessarily embarrassing. It kinda is a missing link between prosimians (lemurs) and simians (other primates). But to suggest that it's a missing link with regard to the ancestry of humans is sensationalist and silly.

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