Skip to main content

Missing link or not, Ida wins viewers

After receiving the red-carpet treatment in New York City and London (Science, 29 May, p. 1124), the fossil primate known as Ida returned home to Oslo this week, where she will appear at the University of Oslo Natural History Museum starting 5 June. Meanwhile, life-size casts of Ida are already on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Natural History Museum in London—and others will soon appear at museums in Germany, not far from the Messel pit where the 47-million-year-old fossil was found, according to paleontologist Jørn Hurum of the Oslo museum.

The fossil of an ancient adapid primate formally named Darwinius masillae was unveiled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City on 19 May. In one remarkable week, Ida was the subject of a media blitz worthy of the winner of American Idol. First, she starred on 25 May in The Link, a documentary film shown by The History Channel in the United States. The next night, Ida appeared in London with the filmmaker Richard Attenborough, who narrated the version of the film shown on BBC One in England on 26 May. By the end of the week, she was the first fossil to be featured on Google’s home page and the subject of a companion book to the documentary and a Web site.

But one group was conspicuously absent in the toasts to Ida’s success: the scientists who are the world’s experts in primate evolution. Even though they were impressed by how complete and well-preserved the fossil primate was, many were troubled by the branding of Ida as a “missing link” to humans (ScienceNOW, 19 May). Most complained that Ida was the ancestor of lemurs, not humans, and that the hype was not justified by the analysis provided in the scientific paper published last week in the online journal PLoS ONE. The uncovering of Ida’s true identity, however, failed to rain on her parade: At least 2 million viewers tuned in at 9:00 p.m. EDT on 25 May to watch Ida on The History Channel, according to Nielsen Fast Cable ratings. That is up 67% compared with The History Channel’s prime-time average.