The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor

The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor

by Colin Tudge, Josh Young

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For more than a century, scientists have raced to unravel the human family tree and have grappled with its complications. Now, with an astonishing new discovery, everything we thought we knew about primate origins could change. Lying inside a high-security vault, deep within the heart of one of the world's leading natural history museums, is the scientific find of a lifetime - a perfectly fossilized early primate, older than the previously most famous primate fossil, Lucy, by forty-four million years.

 A secret until now, the fossil - "Ida" to the researchers who have painstakingly verified her provenance - is the most complete primate fossil ever found. Forty-seven million years old, Ida rewrites what we've assumed about the earliest primate origins. Her completeness is unparalleled - so much of what we understand about evolution comes from partial fossils and even single bones, but Ida's fossilization offers much more than that, from a haunting "skin shadow" to her stomach contents. And, remarkably, knowledge of her discovery and existence almost never saw the light of day.

 With exclusive access to the first scientists to study her, the award-winning science writer Colin Tudge tells the history of Ida and her place in the world. A magnificent, cutting-edge scientific detective story followed her discovery, and The Link offers a wide-ranging investigation into Ida and our earliest origins. At the same time, it opens a stunningly evocative window into our past and changes what we know about primate evolution and, ultimately, our own.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316076456
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 05/20/2009
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 485,216
File size: 15 MB
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About the Author

Colin Tudge is a biologist by education and a writer by inclination—on biology, food and agriculture, and the philosophy of science. His books include The Tree, Feeding People Is Easy, Consider the Birds, and The Time Before History. For more information about the author, go to

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David Attenborough

This is an extraordinary fossil.

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Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
ReaderLO More than 1 year ago
A very well organized, compelling and interesting read. Students particularly will find this a handy addition to simplifying a terribly complicated and confusing subject. The photos are amazing. I did find however, that I needed to sit in front of the computer to look up all the scientific names and terms as I read through it. I think the book itself is great, it's the lack of supporting photos and charts that's frustrating. Dry noses, wet noses, prosimians, anthropoids, adapids etc. Photos or pictures of these imbedded in the text would have been very helpful. But, evidenced by the fact that I can write the above terms when I had no idea what they were or meant before I picked up this book I did learn a lot. Nicely done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ah, where to begin... Well first this book is great. Well written, interesting, and another nail in the already shut coffin on where humans evolved from. The Earth is older than 4,000 years, carbon dating really does work, and dinosaurs really existed, the end. Its time for everyone to take a step back and look at actual evidence before making judgments and pulling the bible card. Ignorance is not bliss all the time and we could be Evolving further as people if we could realize we are finding out new evidence all the time on where we came from and how. Every year the number of non religious people is rising and it probabaly has something to do with the ability to reason outside the box, and be ok with it. i personally am ok that life has the ability to adapt and make itself stronger for future generations, and wasn't snapped into existense. we know that future studies will again prove evolution, as it has over and over so lets just enjoy these amazing discoveries that science finds enjoy the truth.
Enjay More than 1 year ago
Do you know the difference between the Eocene and the Miocene? How about an anthropoid and a hominid? Where on your family tree would you likely find a Omomyid or a Tarsier? It doesn't matter. Colin Tudge slides gracefully over the more arcane paleontological terms and carefully uncovers for us the story of the discovery and the significance of one of mankind's earliest ancestors, Ida. Ida, who was rescued from the Messel Pit in Germany by a private collector and then squirreled away for years, found her way to a fossil-fair in Hamburg, Germany, in 2006. There, she was rescued by Jorn Hurum, an associate professor of paleontology at the University of Oslo. And Ida's claim to fame? She is a complete fossil, right down to the remains of her last meal in the pit of her stomach. Futhermore, she predates apes by about 15 million years. And finally, she was found in what is now western Europe, not in Africa. The joy of Tudge's effort is the seamless blending of paleontology and geology to provide the lay-reader with a detective story, rich in scientific detail, as well as an over-arching perspective upon the origins of man. My only criticism is his needless and aimless wanderings into the morass of global warming. Must every scientific writer, no matter the topic, evangelize upon this new-found religion? But don't worry, the homily slides by, just like the geological and paleontological terms, and the reader is left with a darn good yarn.
Skeptical-DoDo More than 1 year ago
The book by Colin Tudge is about a fossil find from Germany. It recently garnered a lot of press. Found by a private collector from the Messel site in Germany and hidden away for 20 years, has some negative connotations. A scientist from Oslo Norway obtaining the speciman and putting a team together to study it is compelling. It is very clear to the lay person. For that primary reason I recommend the book. I question calling it a Link as that term is discouraged in scientific circles, but maybe as a hook for lay readers it is worth it. A paper about the discovery and evaluation of the find has only recently been published. Peer review has only just begun. What I really like about the book is the description of the time period in which the fossil lived and the description of the evolution of primates. This is valuable to hear through all the noise of creationism and its child intelligent design. That makes the book a recommneded read for the lay person.
Cheyenne1 More than 1 year ago
The Link is one of the most enlightening, updated, informative reads on primates on the market. When comparing it to other books on primates it is accurate,and compelling. i would highly recommend this book to students,researchers and anyone interested in the study of the origin of man. Without "The Link" your knowledege will be incomplete.
quzy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On May 19th of this year "Scientists have announced the discovery of a 47-million-year-old human ancestor. Discovered in the Messel Pit, Germany, the fossil is twenty times older than most fossils that explain human evolution. Known as ¿Ida,¿ the fossil is a transitional species, showing characteristics of the very primitive nonhuman evolutionary line (prosimians, such as lemurs), but even more closely those of 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"Meet Ida - she died when she was less than a year old while standing next to Maar Lake (aka The Messel Pit). Speculation paints her innocently leaning over to get a drink of water at Maar Lake, breathing in a poisonous layer of gas released from the lake and dying. Thus falling into the Lake to be eventually preserved for all of us to see - 47 MILLION years later!The Link follows the discovery, excavation and preservation of Ida. Plus we get the full story on why Ida is such a revolutionary discovery! At 95% complete, Ida is practically a miracle in the scientific community! So complete we can see she has opposable thumbs and toes, nails instead of claws and what she ate before she died.For 2 years, Dr. Jorn Hurum, associate professor in vertebrate paleontology at the University of Oslo along with a select team of specialized scientists, carefully studied, researched and documented Ida. They wanted to be thorough before revealing to the scientific community and the world what they had and that Ida was validated beyond reproach. The discovery of Ida doesn't start with Dr. Hurum, but with the German government in 1971 declaring that the Messel Pit, which was being mined for its shale and then the shale being converted to raw petroleum, an eyesore. They were going to convert it into a landfill! A fury of activity began as scientists and collectors tried to get any and all fossils out of the pit. A private collector stumbled upon Ida while on a day expedition to the Messel Pit. He carefully wrapped her up and put her on a shelf for 25 YEARS! Then in 2006 the anonymous collector (who wanted to remain annoymous for fear of criticism from the scientific communtiy) decided to sell Ida off. Dr. Hurum met with a reputable dealer at an annual fossil fair in Germany and the rest is history- literally!A wonderful interactive and content-rich site has been launched.The Link has many wonderful photographs of Ida as well as a great story of the earth's family tree. I myself found the book very interesting and Ida herself to be amazing - the Ultimate Chick!
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ida is a 47-milion-year-old prosimian (primitive primate) who died when she was just under a year old, probably trying to get a drink from a lake in a rain forest. Unfortunately, just at that moment, an explosion of gas and steam raced up from earth¿s crust, killing all the creatures around it. Ida must have slipped into unconsciousness, tumbled into the lake, and fallen to the bottom. The lake was so coated with mud and algae that the lack of oxygen killed opportunistic bacteria. As the author points out, this allowed any creature that sank to the bottom ¿to rest virtually undisturbed for eternity.¿Or¿ until modern man came along looking for fuel. Today, that lake is near Frankfurt, Germany, and is called the Messel Pit. After millions of years the mud had become bituminous shale. Brown coal, and later oil shale was actively mined beginning in the mid 1800¿s. The pit first became known for its wealth of fossils around 1900, but serious scientific excavation only started in the 1970's, when the quarry ceased operations. Since then, both amateur and professional archeologists have been out to the site, along with landfill engineers, traders, dealers, and people looking for unique Christmas presents. In 1982, a Frankfurt man found Ida and took her home. In 2006, this private collector decided he would rather have the money. Ida was purchased by the scientific community.The first part of the book takes you on a tour of Ida¿s world during the Eocene Epoch, and delineates in detail what other sorts of remains were also in the Messel Pit. The author then goes into a very long exposition of what makes a mammal a primate, and how primates evolve, which is important to establish that Ida is indeed a close relative on our ancient family tree. Ida, paraphrasing Tudge, is emphatically not a squirrel. (In spite of this sounding like the author is actually displaying humor, the fact is that Ida is the size of a large squirrel.) Tudge explains that within the order of primates there are six main lineages. Because our collection of complete fossils is so sparse (especially of so-called transitional creatures that occurred chronologically between two different but related species), we must do a lot of speculating about early evolution.Ida, Tudge claims, helps bridge the gap both literally and figuratively. He points out just how and why Ida is an ¿in between¿ species. He describes Ida in great detail, from head to foot¿to tail. There are wonderful illustrations in the book as well. Tudge explores the reaction of the scientific community to Ida and the controversies spawned in her wake. His last chapter, about why we should care about Ida, is his weakest. Surely we don¿t need justification to care about the best intact fossil findings ever from 47 million years ago.This book has some interesting aspects to it, but Tudge doesn¿t write with either the panache of Stephen Jay Gould or the infectious excitement of Lewis Thomas. Nor does he have the journalist¿s talent for making you care about esoteric subjects, as does Edmund Wilson. That doesn¿t mean you should skip this book, however; but you will have to supply your own enthusiasm.
jmchshannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For those who like paleontology but are not be scientists in the field, this book offers a unique look into the study of paleontology, the search for fossils and just what fossil finds entail for the scientists involved. Mr. Tudge does a great job of setting the backdrop and explaining in fairly easy-to-understand terminology what this find means for scientists throughout the world. He takes roughly 150 of the 250 pages of the book to explain what the earth was like both before and after Ida was living, how early primates evolved, the truly unique nature of Ida's final resting place, and how we can extrapolate from Ida's era to our own. This background paves the way for the reader to understand the significance of Ida.Even a layperson like me realizes that Ida is truly a one-in-a-million find. The pictures sprinkled throughout the book certainly highlight just how remarkable she is. Not only is the skeleton complete, but you can also see the outline of her fur as well as the fossilized remains of her stomach contents at the time of her death. Given the fact that most fossils are partial remains, this detail is both astonishing and slightly eerie.Speaking of eerie, if one were to look solely at the cover without knowing anything else about the book, one would almost get the impression that it falls in the horror genre. I get what the publishers were trying to do with the cover illustration (that is one of Ida's hands), but it still is a bit creepy to me to see it isolated like that. The full fossil pictures are stunning; the single hand scares me ever so slightly.One other bone of contention is Mr. Tudge's descriptions of the scientists involved. Dr. Jorn Hurum is the paleontologist who was shown a picture of Ida at a fossil fair and immediately recognized the value of the find. Professor Philip Gingerich and Dr. Jens Franzen also helped confirm Ida's authenticity and continue to work together to unravel all of her secrets. Extremely lucky (because paleontology requires luck) men, they appear more than capable of handling the job. And yet, Mr. Tudge's descriptions of them, especially when compared to the pictures included in the book, seems slanted and somewhat biased. Dr. Hurum, as the lead scientist, is described as having the "rugged look of an explorer" and "a sturdy build", which does not match the picture. Dr. Franzen is described as having Coke-bottle glasses. Let's just say that if he's wearing Coke-bottle glasses, then my glasses belonged on the Hubble telescope. I know these seem minor, but it did get me wondering what else he slanted in his descriptions. I've read a lot of peer-reviewed literature and have done my fair share of literature reviews for my Masters' program, so minor details such as inaccurate descriptions of main characters tends to raise a yellow flag for me to proceed with caution and understand that the author's point of view may be skewed.In all, this book made me remember why I wanted to be a paleontologist or archaeologist when I grew up. Mr. Tudge does a tremendous job of presenting complex ideas in a simplistic fashion to help guide the reader to a better understanding of the overall importance of the discovery. I learned quite a bit about prehistoric Earth after the dinosaurs roamed, and I met Ida. She is definitely one fascinating little "lady" and well worth the time and effort it takes to finally meet her.Thanks to Anna Balasi at Hachette Books for the opportunity to review this book!
tututhefirst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the written to be the story of IDA, the 47million year old,incredibly preserved Eocene era fossil discovered in the Messil pit in Germany in the early 1980s. An amateur paleontologist discovers and lovingly preserves what is today the most complete primate fossil ever found.Little, Brown, the publishers, a division of Hachete Book Group had quite a coming out party for this book and this fossil on May 19,2009 to great fanfare. I don't pretend to understand everything in it. I'm pretty educated and don't have a lot of trouble with scientific concepts, but this one could be the text for graduate level paleontology. The first two or three chapters were great...setting a stage, drawing us in, but then things started progressing to the MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over!) stage. The are over 100 pages about different animal species, ice and gas and continental drift, all very technical (although well-written) and, unless you are a scientist, fairly boring. The final two chapters told me everything I really needed to know.While well written for a scientific audience, this book is going to be way past appealing to the public, except..............the pictures are fantastic. Probably because the fossil (named IDA) is fantastic, and the work the scientific team has done so far is well documented and portrayed in x-rays, CT scans, etc.This fossil is so well preserved that even the stomach contents of her last meal are still there and able to be analyzed. I suspect this early research will form the basis of many more papers, books, and theories in the future.
jasmyn9 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In interesting look at a spectacular fossil found at a dig site in Germany called the Messel Pit. The fossil is believed to be one of the "missing links" in the evolution of humans. While it would have been nice to hear more in the book about the fossil itself, the book did give a wonderful history of a period in ancient history called the Eocene. It explored several different theories of evolution branches that could have potentially lead to humans.Overall a very informative book. My only complaint was the lack of more information on the fossil, Ida, herself.3.5/5
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