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Human evolution's 'missing link' found?

tech reviews Updated: May 21, 2009 01:21 IST

The skeleton of a 47 million-year-old primate that could indicate what our ancestors looked like has been unveiled by scientists.

They have hailed the creature - with four long legs, a long tail and the size of a small cat - as the missing link which could help illuminate the early evolution of monkeys, apes and humans.

FossilAstonishingly, it was found by an amateur collector 26 years ago in the Messil Pit world heritage site, a disused quarry southeast of Frankfurt where many fossils have been found.

It was kept in a private collection until it was offered for sale in 2006 to Dr Jorn Hurum, professor of vertebrate technology at the University of Oslo Natural History Museum.

The fossil was nicknamed Ida after the daughter of Dr Jens Franzen, a researcher from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt who is an authority on the Messil Pit area.

He said: "We are not dealing with our grand, grand, grand, grand, grandmother, but perhaps with our grand, grand, grand, aunt."

Ida is linked to humans by the talus bone in her ankle which is the same shape. Scientists also said her opposable big toes and nails, not claws, confirmed she was a primate.

Measuring 2ft from the tip of her nose to the end of her tail, she died before her first birthday, Dr Hurum said, adding: "It's really hard to pinpoint exactly who gave rise to humans at that point but this is as good as it gets really."
Ida is nearly entirely intact, apart from one lower limb. Remnants of her fur are still evident and her last meal of fruit and leaves were still in the stomach cavity when discovered.

The skeleton has been put on display at New York's Museum of Natural History.