Published on:

Great new fossil, but the missing link it aint

Big news?

The Telegraph: Missing link between man and apes found.

The Sunday Times: Fossil from cave is a ‘missing link’

The cliche is misleading. The new fossil is a very complete
and therefore very interesting specimen from a poorly
understood period. If it proves to have features of both
Australopithecus and Homo habilis, that’s intriguing and

But it is absoluitely nothing to do with the common ancestor
of man and apes, which lived 6 million years ago, not 2
million. That’s the long accepted meaning of the phrase `missing

At least the Times uses the phrase `a missing link’. But it’s
only true in the most trivial sense. Every link in a chain of
fossils is missing till it’s found.

This PR hype is becoming a habit in paeoanthropology. A year
ago, ridiculous secrecy and jamboree surrounded
the announcement of a 47 million year old fossil primate
from the Messel pit in Germany. Called Ida, or Darwinius, it
too was described as the missing link and given
ludicrous star treatment. in an attempt to recoup the huge sum
spent by a museum buying it off a collector.

It was just a very well preserved fossil of a very early
primate, probably on the lemur lineage. Or as one
paleoanthropolgist put it to me: `It’s a f***ing lemur’.


By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist