Page last updated at 02:23 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 03:23 UK

'Missing link' fossil on display

Primate fossil (The Link/Atlantic Productions)
The fossil of Ida - Darwinius masillae - is 95% complete

A cast of a 47-million-year-old fossil thought by some to be the "missing link" is to go on display on Wednesday at London's Natural History Museum.

The preserved remains of a lemur-like creature - known as Ida - were found in the 1980s, but have recently sparked a frenzy in the palaeontology world.

Some experts believe Ida could be the evolutionary link between modern higher primates and more distant species.

Others, however, say they are sceptical about the fossil's real significance.

The creature - whose scientific name is Darwinius masillae - was unearthed in Germany and until recently has been in a private collection.

The investigation into its origin was led by Jorn Hurum, of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, who believes it is "the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor".

The key significance of this new fossil is that it is so complete
Jerry Hooker, palaeontologist
Natural History Museum

Last meal

The Natural History Museum exhibit will allow visitors to see how well it has been preserved, with traces of the creature's fur still visible.

Jerry Hooker, mammalian palaeontologist at the museum, said: "The key significance of this new fossil is that it is so complete.

"Darwinius masillae has fur impressions and the remains of its last meal in its gut, letting scientists reconstruct its lifestyle as well as learn much more about a very early stage in primate evolution."

"In life it probably looked generally more like a lemur than a monkey, but with a shorter snout and shorter hind limbs."

The museum's director of public engagement, Sharon Ament, said experts there would keep visitors up to date with the latest research relating to it.

The original fossil will return to the University of Oslo this week.

A documentary about Ida - Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link - will be broadcast on BBC1 at 2100BST on 26 May.

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