Donated Ida fossil cast to go on display

26 May 2009

Visitors to the Natural History Museum in London will be able to see Ida, the fossil of the ancient lemur-like creature, when a cast goes on display from tomorrow.

The 47-million-year-old fossil caused a sensation last week when researchers from the University of Oslo suggested the primate named Darwinius masillae could be our earliest human ancestor.

Cast donation
Close-up of fossil cast showing Ida's foot

Close-up of fossil cast showing Ida's foot

The Ida cast was donated to the Natural History Museum today by the University of Oslo Natural History Museum. Sir David Attenborough will be there to see the cast and is also narrating Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link, a one-off documentary about Ida on BBC One at 21.00 tonight.

‘We are delighted that we can give the public the chance to explore for themselves the significance of this new fossil discovery,' says Sharon Ament, Director of Public Engagement at the Natural History Museum.

'Fossils are evidence of evolution and visitors to the Museum can find lots of this evidence in our galleries – from the earliest fossil fish to modern humans.'

A glimpse of the real fossil

Scientists at the Natural History Museum, London, will get a glimpse of the real specimen when it is brought to the Museum for just a few hours.

The lucky scientists will see the most complete fossil primate ever found. It is so well-preserved that the remains of its last meal are still in its stomach and you can see an outline of where the fur once was.

Early primate evolution

Darwinius masillae lived 47 million years ago, just after a critical split in the tree of life. One branch led to lemurs and bushbabies, the other to all other primates including tarsiers, monkeys, apes and humans, a group known as haplorhines.

Ida has features in common with haplorhines such as opposable thumbs and nails instead of claws.

Fossil of 2 parts

The fossil was found in 2 halves in 1983, in the Messel Pit near Darmstadt in Germany. The more complete half was not seen by scientists until 2 years ago. It was when the 2 pieces were brought together that the significance of the fossil was realised.

Museum specimen collections

Even though it is a cast, scientists will still learn a great deal from this replica. It will be an important addition to the Museum's 9 million other fossil specimens that are studied by researchers from all around the world.

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