Darwinius massilae
Without question, human ancestry has been and will remain the focus of public attention paid to evolutionary biology. And for at least the last 100 years, one of the popular concerns has been finding “the missing link”, that fossil or set of fossils that connect modern humans with more apelike ancestors. One such case, that of Piltdown Man, was shown to be a fraud nearly sixty years ago, however new possibilities continue to arise .

One of the most recent was “Ida” (Darwinius masillae), a 47 million year old fossil found in Germany, preserved in a private collection for many years, and then carefully analyzed and proposed as possibly one of the earliest known ancestors of modern man by Jorn Hurum and his colleagues in the Public Library of Science (PLOS).

Normally, the publication of a peer-reviewed publication does not generate a lot of publicity, however in this case, all bets were off.  The journal that published the paper, PLOS One, went to some effort to stage manage the release, as they described in a cover piece included with the electronic edition containing the paper.

As the editors anticipated (and the authors seem to have planned – see the conflict of interest disclosure that was added subsequent to publication), the paper garnered considerable attention, with news stories in outlets ranging from The Guardian to The New York Daily News.  It became the subject of a commercial documentary, a portion of which can be seen below.  In all cases, the initial reaction seemed to be that indeed “The Missing Link” had been found.


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