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Missing link missing very little

SCIENTISTS on Tuesday unveiled the well preserved fossilized remains of a primate found in Germany from 47 million years ago that may have been a close relative of the common ancestor of monkeys, apes and people.

It is the most complete fossil primate ever found, only missing part of one leg below the knee, and could shed light on an early stage of primate evolution, the scientists said.

Norwegian paleontologist Jorn Hurum, who led a team of scientists who analyzed the fossil over the past two years, said it may resemble one of the earliest ancestors of humans but was not likely to have been a direct ancestor.

"We are not dealing with our grand-grand-grand-grandmother but perhaps our grand-grand-grand-aunt," Jens Franzen, of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, told reporters at New York's American Museum of Natural History.

The primate, which was 58 centimeters from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, was a female that died before its first birthday, Hurum said. It was called Darwinius masillae in honor of Charles Darwin, who advanced the theory of evolution, but nicknamed Ida.

The fossil was found by an amateur collector in 1983 in the world heritage listed Messel pit, a disused quarry southeast of Frankfurt where many fossils have been found.

Ida was kept in a private collection until it was offered for sale to Hurum and the University of Oslo in 2006.

The direct ancestors of humans "must have looked something like" Ida, Hurum said.

"This is the only clue we've got to what they looked like," he said. "But being cautious as scientists ... we are of course not stating that this is our direct ancestor. That's too much," Hurum added. "It's really, really hard to pinpoint who gave rise to humans at that point, but this is as good as it gets."


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