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Primary slab of the holotype and only known specimen

Darwinius is a genus of primitive primate from the Eocene of Germany. It is often lauded as the "missing link" between early and advanced primates.


Darwinius is known from only one skeleton (nicknamed "Ida"[1]), missing only its left rear leg. A juvenile female, it measures 58 centimeters in length from head to tail, and resembles a modern lemur in body shape. Along with the skeleton, impressions of fur have been preserved, as well as the animal's stomach contents of fruit and leaves.


The single species, Darwinius masillae, was placed in the Notharctidae family of adapiform primates by its original discoverers. This is not a classification shared by all scientists, however.[2]


The Darwinius specimen was originally discovered in 1983 at the Messel shale pit near Frankfurt, Germany as a slab and counter slab, which were at some point separated. The counter slab was embellished with fake parts and delivered to a Wyoming museum in 1991. It was soon revealed that the specimen was a composite.[3]

The primary slab remained in Germany in the hands of a private collector, and after twenty years it was sold to a fossil dealer.[4] In 2006, Norwegian paleontologist Jørn Hurum met with the dealer, who showed him photographs of the skeleton and stated that the asking price for the specimen was $1 million. Realizing the importance of the fossil, Hurum persuaded the Natural History Museum of Oslo to provide funding to buy the specimen, after he proved that it was not a fake.[5] The specimen was then studied in secret for two years, and was officially described in 2009 accompanied by extensive media hype.[6]


Reconstructions of the specimen's teeth reveal that it was not yet fully grown and ate leaves and seeds. Its right wrist was also recovering from a recent fracture, which may have contributed to the animal's death in some form.[7]


  1. Christine McGourty (19 May 2009). "Science & Environment; Scientists hail stunning fossil". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
  2. Ann Gibbons (19 May 2009). ""Revolutionary" Fossil Fails to Dazzle Paleontologists -- Gibbons 2009 (519): 1 -- ScienceNOW". ScienceNOW Daily News. American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  3. Franzen, J.L. (1994), in Anthropoid Origins (eds Fleagle, J. F. & Kay, R. F.)pp 99-122 (Plenum, New York)
  4. Fossil Ida: extraordinary find is 'missing link' in human evolution, a 19 May 2009 article from The Guardian
  5. James Randerson (19 May 2009). "Fossil Ida: A profile of palaeontologist Jørn Hurum | Science |". London: The Guardian.
  6. Franzen, J. L.; Gingerich, P. D.; Habersetzer, J.; Hurum, J. H.; Von Koenigswald, W.; Smith, B. H. (2009). "Complete primate skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: morphology and paleobiology" (PDF). In J., Hawks. PLoS ONE 4 (5): e5723. Bibcode:2009PLoSO...4.5723F. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005723. PMC 2683573. PMID 19492084.
  7. ""MISSING LINK" FOUND: New Fossil Links Humans, Lemurs?". National Geographic. May 19, 2009.