The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor

The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor

Colin Tudge, Josh Young

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 0316070084

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

For more than a century, scientists have raced to unravel the human family tree and have grappled with its complications. Now, with an astonishing new discovery, everything we thought we knew about primate origins could change. Lying inside a high-security vault, deep within the heart of one of the world’s leading natural history museums, is the scientific find of a lifetime — a perfectly fossilized early primate, older than the previously most famous primate fossil, Lucy, by forty-four million years. A secret until now, the fossil — “Ida” to the researchers who have painstakingly verified her provenance — is the most complete primate fossil ever found. Forty-seven million years old, Ida rewrites what we’ve assumed about the earliest primate origins. Her completeness is unparalleled — so much of what we understand about evolution comes from partial fossils and even single bones, but Ida’s fossilization offers much more than that, from a haunting “skin shadow” to her stomach contents. And, remarkably, knowledge of her discovery and existence almost never saw the light of day. With exclusive access to the first scientists to study her, the award-winning science writer Colin Tudge tells the history of Ida and her place in the world. A magnificent, cutting-edge scientific detective story followed her discovery, and The Link offers a wide-ranging investigation into Ida and our earliest origins. At the same time, it opens a stunningly evocative window into our past and changes what we know about primate evolution and, ultimately, our own.

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bark from the trees with their two clawlike fingers in hopes of finding insect larvae. Anteaters seethe as they eye giant ants an inch (2.5 centimeters) long, but these ants often make last-second getaways by spanning their wings a full six inches (15 centimeters) and beating a retreat. In the center of the forest sits the lake, which is an endless source of fascination for the creatures living around it. The crater it fills was formed by a volcanic eruption thousands of years before Ida was

them made it into North America (where in the west, armadillos are standard roadkill, just as hedgehogs used to be in Europe). Eurotamandua certainly looks like an anteater. It has no teeth, and its long tubular skull presumably housed a long, tentacle-like tongue. It had limbs that could surely break open a termite nest. But there are no remains of ants or termites in its gut—though there are traces of stuff that looks as if it could have been part of a termite nest. If it really is an

seed) largely passes straight through the animal, and so the grassland is spread. On the other hand, grass doesn’t like to be eaten too much. Overgrazing is always a hazard (as is evident on many an overworked farm and on ill-managed common land the world over). So the grass makes it hard for the grazers. Typically, the leaves of grasses are laced with spicules of silica, and animals that aspire to subsist on grass need strong, long teeth or they would wear away. Browsers—the herbivores that

the history of science. In 1912, in a gravel pit at Piltdown in Surrey in southern England, there came to light what seemed to be one of the all-time star fossils: part of a skull and lower jaw from what seemed like the ideal ancestral hominid. The cranium was huge—so it was a big-brained creature—and the jaw was distinctly apelike. It was assumed (although no other bones were found) that it had an apelike body to go with its apelike face. The experts of the day included Sir Arthur Keith, Sir

Arizona State University MARP: Middle Awash Research Project MPFT: Mission Paleoanthropologique Franco-Tchadienne NMK: National Museum of Kenya Africa’s key fossil discoveries. An early three-dimensional reconstruction of Ida’s skeleton. An early three-dimensional reconstruction of Ida’s skeleton. An early three-dimensional reconstruction of Ida’s skeleton. An early three-dimensional reconstruction of Ida’s skull. An early three-dimensional reconstruction of Ida’s skull. An early

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