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BBC One brings viewers the story behind what could be one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 21st century. The film, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, is set to throw extraordinary new light on our understanding of human evolution.
The fossilised bones, which are thought to be between 37 and 47million years old, were found in Germany’s Messel Shale Pit, a disused quarry near Frankfurt famous for its fossils.The team who examined the young female animal say it has some resemblance to a lemur, a mammal with a distinctive tail that is found to this day in the forests of Madagascar.
But Sir David’s documentary will explain that the researchers have, controversially, concluded the fossil ‘is not simply a lemur’ but from a related group of primates which evolved into monkeys, apes and human beings.
The BBC programme is based on a scientific study to be published by the Public Library of Science, a leading academic journal with offices in Cambridge and San Francisco.
Last night, the study’s co-author, Philip Gingerich, the president-elect of the US Paleontological Society, said: ‘I examined this skeleton. It is exceptionally complete and it is well-dated.
We have kept it under wraps because you can’t blither about something until you understand it. We now understand it. It is going to advance our knowledge of evolution.’