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Science News of 2009

Major science news stories, from the fossil Ardi to new mammogram recommendations

by Holly B. Miller

Leonardo da Vinci Drawing of Human Skull

Drawing of Human Skull

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Fossilized Specimans in Human Evolution Discovered, Refuted

A Media Firestorm Fizzles Out
In May, scientists unveiled the fossilized remains of a 47-million-year-old primate, and alleged that she was the ancestor of humans, as well as other modern primates. Nicknamed "Ida" after a scientist's daughter, the fossil was called the first discovery of its kind—it is almost completely intact. The fossil was discovered in Germany in 1983, but was kept in private collections and only recently analyzed by scientists. She was heavily promoted as "The Missing Link" in a new book and television documentary. Ida was especially big news because, "Lucy," the oldest and best-preserved skeleton of a hominid (two-footed, human-like primate), is only 3.2 million years old.

A reanalysis of the findings was published, however, in October. Experts agreed that while Ida is a primate, she is not in the same group as monkeys, apes, and most importantly, humans; she is a species called Darwinius, more closely related to lemurs, and is from the group of primates called adapoids.

A True Piece of Evolutionary History
Also in October, a fossil skeleton of the species Ardipithecus ramidus (nicknamed "Ardi"), was discovered. Its age is estimated at 4.4 million years, making it older than Lucy, and the oldest specimen from the human branch of the primate group categorization. Ardi, an adult female, was four-feet tall, 120 pounds, and, by this stage in evolution, already walking upright on two legs. Fragments of the specimen were first discovered in 1992; scientists were waiting for more pieces of the skeleton before conducting the necessary research and publishing their findings.

For more information on evolutionary history:

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