Rival fossil challenges 'missing link'

Ganlea has more claim to be common primate ancestor than Ida, say scientists

She had a website devoted to her, a film made about her, a book written on her, and even a Google-page dedication of her own. But Ida the fossil primate who was supposed to be the missing link between man and the rest of the animal kingdom has been dethroned by another fossil with far better claims to the crown.

When Ida, the 47-million-year-old fossil of an early primate, was unveiled to the public in May there was near-hysteria about the discovery of the "missing link" in the ancestry of man, carefully choreographed by the publicity machine of the film company behind a television documentary sold to the BBC and the publishers of a book.

Ida, unearthed in a shale pit in Germany, was perfectly preserved right down to her opposable thumb, the fur on her back and the contents of her stomach, but now another team of scientists has questioned her right to be named as the fossil ancestor that links humans to all other animals.

Chris Beard, a palaeontologist with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, believes that he and his team have found a far better candidate in the shape of a primate fossil found in Burma which he said is much more likely than Ida to be the common ancestor of all monkeys, apes and humans.

Called Ganlea megacanina, the new fossil is about 38 million years old and even though the scientists only have its teeth and a fragment of its jawbone they are convinced that both its anatomical features and its lifestyle are those of an "anthropoid" primate, the group of primates that split away from the other lemur-like primates to evolve into monkeys, apes and humans.

"Ida is a complete fossil, and that in many ways is its calling card. We have an incomplete fossil of Ganlea but even though it is not complete, its anatomy is far more compelling for it to be the ancestor of monkeys, apes and humans than it is for Ida to be the ancestor," Dr Beard said.

"As far as we can tell, not only is Ganlea an anthropoid, it is a fairly advanced anthropoid, which is not what you can say about Ida," he said.

A study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society shows Ganlea's large canine tooth has abrasions that could only have come about by prying open the hard exterior of tough tropical fruits in order to eat the seeds inside, an anthropoid-like behaviour seen today in South American monkeys. It has never been documented in non-anthropoid primates such as lemurs, Dr Beard said.

Other elements of its jawbone, along with anatomical features possessed by Ganlea's close Asian relatives, suggest that it belonged to the ultimate ancestral group of all anthropoids, some of which must have migrated to Africa to become the ape-like ancestors of man.

Ida, meanwhile, remains an oddity at the far end of the primate family tree, about as far away from man's ancestors as you can get, Dr Beard said. "Ida is a good-looking fossil but it was the victim of incredible marketing. It is not all that it was cracked up to be. I've never seen such hyperbole surrounding a primate fossil as the one that came with Ida – and I'm not alone in thinking that," he said.

Meet the ancestor: Ida 'over-hyped'

* Although not a direct human ancestor, Ida is still an important fossil. The most amazing aspect of Ida is her near-miraculous state of preservation – about 95 per cent of her skeleton is complete.

* She lacked a penis bone, making her unmistakably female, and her thumb and fingers were opposable which meant that she could climb and pick berries and fruit.

* Ida had a distinctive ankle bone and she lacked a "toothcomb", a fused row of teeth in the middle of the lower jaw, and a "toilet claw" used for grooming – attributes of lemurs but not monkeys.

* Her fingertips end in nails rather than claws, like monkeys, and her eye sockets are large and forward-pointing which would have given her good 3-D, binocular vision. Her large eyes would have been useful for night-time foraging in a nocturnal lifestyle.

* X-ray scans of the fossil showed that Ida had suffered a fractured wrist bone that was in the process of healing, an injury that may have led to her falling off a branch and into the lake where she was preserved in sediment.

Suggested Topics
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 2 Teachers to cover vacancies after resignation period

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Year 4 Teachers to cover vacancies after resignation period

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Primary Float Teachers needed for various temporary roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Primary Teacher's * perm roles following resignation period

£110 - £130 per day + TBA: Randstad Education Reading: Primary Teachers needed...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker