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HISTORY Channel(TM), The University of Oslo and the Senckenberg Research Institute Reveal Landmark Scientific Find

May 19, 2009

47 Million Year Old Primate Fossil Set to Revolutionize Understanding of Human Evolution

HISTORY SPECIAL DOCUMENTING DISCOVERY TO AIR MAY 25 AT 9PM ET/PT

NEW YORK, May 19 /PRNewswire/ — HISTORY, together with the University of Oslo and the Senckenberg Research Institute, today reveal a landmark scientific find: the 47 million year old fossilized remains of a primate. The most complete fossil primate ever found, the young female specimen — known as “Ida” — is set to revolutionize our understanding of human evolution. Twenty times older than most fossils that explain human evolution, “Ida” is a transitional species showing characteristics from the very primitive non-human evolutionary line (prosimians, such as lemurs), but she is more related to the human evolutionary line (anthropoids, such as monkeys, apes and humans). This places Ida at the very root of anthropoid evolution — when primates were first developing the features that would evolve into our own. The scientists’ findings are published today by PLoS One, the open source journal of the Public Library of Science.

The find is lauded as the most important scientific discovery of recent times. HISTORY will premiere the major television special — “The Link” — chronicling the discovery and study of the fossil. The two-hour program, produced by London-based Atlantic Productions, will air on HISTORY on Monday, May 25 at 9pm ET/PT. “THE LINK” is presented with limited commercials made possible by Ally Bank.

For the past two years, a team of esteemed scientists, led by world-renowned Norwegian paleontologist Dr. Jorn Hurum of the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, has secretly conducted a detailed forensic analysis of the extraordinary 95% complete fossil, studying the data to decode humankind’s ancient origins.

“This specimen is like finding the lost ark for archaeologists,” said Hurum. “This fossil will probably be the one that will be pictured in all textbooks for the next 100 years.”

“This is a history-making story and HISTORY channel is honored to be working with the brilliant team of scientists who have uncovered one of the most important paleontological finds of both this generation and perhaps many to come,” said Nancy Dubuc, Executive Vice President and General Manager, HISTORY. “HISTORY has a rich tradition of collaborating within the scientific community to give work of this magnitude greater meaning and a national platform. We are extremely proud to bring Ida’s story, and ultimately our own, to the American public. This is a perfect example of how we at HISTORY strive, every day, to deliver authentic programming that connects history in very real, relatable and innovative ways with our viewers.”

About the discovery

Dr. Jorn Hurum first heard about the fossil at an annual fossil fair in Hamburg, Germany. Following a private meeting with a fossil dealer, he was invited to view a fossil the scientific world has been waiting for since the dawn of modern paleontology. After confirming its authenticity, Hurum raised funds to purchase the fossil for the University of Oslo Natural History Museum and returned to his lab in Oslo, Norway where he selected a “dream team” of world experts to help decode the fossil. Among the experts involved are:

  1. Dr. Holly Smith, top U.S. dental anthropologist, University of Michigan: “In terms of a complete skeleton, it’s hard to think of anything else in primate evolution that’s as complete as this fossil. It’s certainly the most beautiful fossil primate I’ve ever seen.”
  2. Dr. Jens Franzen, German fossil and Messel Pit expert, Senckenberg Research Institute: “This is by far the most complete fossil primate ever found in the world. When the results of our investigations are published this will be just like an asteroid hitting the earth.”
  3. Prof. Philip Gingerich, leading U.S. primate specialist, University of Michigan: “It’s really a kind of Rosetta Stone because it ties together parts we haven’t been able to associate before.”
  4. Dr Jorg Habersetzer, German fossil expert and radiologist, Senckenberg Research Institute: “This fossil rewrites our understanding of the evolution of primates.”

Unlike Lucy and other famous primate fossils found in Africa’s Cradle of Mankind, “Ida” is a European fossil, preserved in Germany’s Messel Pit; the mile-wide crater and oil-rich shale is a significant site for fossils of the Eocene period. Fossil analysis reveals that the prehistoric primate was a young female. Opposable big toes and nails instead of claws confirm the fossil is a primate. It is the evidence in Ida’s ankle that links her to us; her talus bone is the same shape as ours only smaller. In addition to the 95% complete skeleton, measuring approximately three feet in length, the fossil also features the complete soft body outline as well as the gut contents; an herbivore, “Ida” fed on fruits, seeds and leaves before she died. X-rays reveal both baby and adult teeth, but also the lack of a “toothcomb” or a “toilet claw” — attributes of lemurs. The scientists estimate Ida’s age to be approximately nine months.

The fossil was revealed publicly for the first time today at a news conference held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. New York CityMayor Michael R. Bloomberg; Abbe Raven, President and CEO, AETN; Nancy Dubuc, EVP and General Manager, History Channel; Dr. Jorn Hurum, University of Oslo Natural History Museum; Dr. Jens Franzen, Senckenberg Research Institute; Dr. Holly Smith, University of Michigan; Ellen Futter, President, American Museum of Natural History; and Anthony Geffen, CEO and Executive Producer, Atlantic Productions were in attendance. Additionally, full research findings were published today by PLoS ONE, the interactive, open-access journal for the communication of all peer-reviewed scientific and medical research from the Public Library of Science. http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0005723

A cast of the specimen will be on display in the “Extreme Mammals” exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.

For more information, please visit www.history.com/thelink, or the dedicated website www.revealingthelink.com.

HISTORY(TM) and HISTORY HD(TM) are the leading destinations for revealing, award-winning original non-fiction series and event-driven specials that connect history with viewers in an informative, immersive and entertaining manner across multiple platforms. Programming covers a diverse variety of historical genres ranging from military history to contemporary history, technology to natural history, as well as science, archaeology and pop culture. Among the network’s program offerings are hit series such as Ax Men, Battle 360, The Universe, Cities of The Underworld and Ice Road Truckers, as well as acclaimed specials including 102 Minutes That Changed America, King, Life After People, 1968 with Tom Brokaw, Nostradamus: 2012 and Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed. HISTORY has earned four Peabody Awards, four Primetime Emmy(R) Awards, 12 News & Documentary Emmy(R) Awards and received the prestigious Governor’s Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for the network’s Save Our History(R) campaign dedicated to historic preservation and history education. Take a Veteran to School Day is the network’s latest initiative connecting America’s schools and communities with veterans from all wars. The HISTORY web site, located at www.history.com, is the definitive historical online source that delivers entertaining and informative content featuring broadband video, interactive timelines, maps, games, podcasts and more.

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