, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 468-476

Ancestor or Adapiform? Darwinius and the Search for Our Early Primate Ancestors

Abstract

On May 19, 2009, an international team of scientists claimed to have found one of our early primate ancestors. Dubbed Darwinius masillae, the 47 million-year-old primate was presented as “the link” that bridged a gap between early primates and our anthropoid progenitors through a major media campaign, yet details about the way the fossil was acquired, the role media companies played in the presentation of the fossil, and disagreements about the fossil’s interpretation generated a controversy in which scientists, journalists, and science bloggers all played important roles. These debates were reinvigorated in the fall of 2009 when an independent team of researchers described a related fossil primate named Afradapis longicristatus, the study of which suggested that Darwinius was much further removed from our ancestry than had been initially proposed. The discussion of these fossils will no doubt continue, but the “Darwinius debates” of 2009 are significant in that they precipitated a long-awaited analysis of early primate relationships, illustrated the benefits and pitfalls of “going broad” with new discoveries, and exhibited how science blogs can work with traditional media outlets to counter exaggerated claims.