Could the fossil above, revealed to the public today at a news conference, be the long sought after "missing link" for evolution that some news outlets are claiming? In actuality, the idea of a missing link is somewhat of a misnomer. Evolutionary relations are more like a complex family tree, and no one species will ever link everything together. Still, this fossil provides a glimpse at what our ancient evolutionary ancestors may have looked like. Named Darwinius masillae after Charles Darwin and its place of discovery, the fossil shows a creature about the size of a small cat with four legs and a long tail. To date, it is the best preserved fossil ever recovered of a primate, even revealing the contents of the creature's stomach.
The fossilized creature is more like an "aunt" than a direct parent, says Jens Frazen, one of the German scientists who presented the new find. However, other experts believe the link between the specimen to anthropoids may be much weaker. "I would say it's more like a third cousin twice removed," said K. Christopher Beard of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
Still, even if it is only in a peripheral way, the new fossil offers a glimpse at our evolutionary ancestors. While it may not revolutionize our understanding of evolution, the fossil is just another piece of evidence showing that evolution has occurred, as Darrel addressed in his blog yesterday.
You can read the entire Associated Press story here and watch video of the official press conference on The History Channel.