The life and times of a celebrity fossil

I'm a fan of evolution. But like most people, I only have a vague idea of how it actually works. Oh sure, I get natural selection and the essential premise of the theory. It's the specifics that give me a little more trouble. Like this whole "missing link" thing. I deduced from the name that there was some kind of link, and we don't know where it is. But as to what was being linked, I had no idea. Apes and man? Dogs and cats? Joanie and Chachi? It was all so unclear.

Thankfully, the fog has been rendered slightly less opaque by the arrival of Ida, the cutest 47-million-year-old skeleton you'll see all week:

ida

Evolutionary biologists are in a right tizzy about this little gal, and for good reason. You see, way back in the murky goo of prehistory, the primate family diverged into two branches. On one side, the lemurs. On the other, monkeys, apes, and ultimately, man. Thus, as the theory goes, there is a common ancestor for all primates. Trouble is, we were never able to find it. Hence the missing link.

Enter Ida. This critter has characteristics of both lemurs and primates, so scientists believe she dates to just after the evolutionary split. This makes her a common ancestor of every living ape, monkey and person on Earth. Ida is more than just another rung in the evolutionary ladder - she's a window into the earliest epoch of our development.

Of course, not everyone is convinced of Ida's status as the found link. No doubt, this will be hashed out among evolutionary theorists over the coming months and years. While I have never been privy to these kinds of heated scientific debates, I suspect they look something like this:

Science is cool.

Thank you, Ida. Thank you for helping us understand our origins a bit better. And for giving me a wafer-thin excuse for posting the fight scene from "Amok Time".