Why does an ancient primate like Ida really matter? Dr Jerry Hooker, fossil mammal expert at the Museum, explains the importance of the new find in the video.
To begin with, Ida, Darwinius masillae, is the only complete fossil primate of any age that has ever been discovered.
Until now, scientists studying early primate evolution in the Middle Eocene Period have only had fragments of fossils to study.
They are trying to understand how early primates split into the prosimian and anthropoid groups.
Now they have a fossil that is not only extraordinarily old, but also preserved in astonishing detail. For a creature of any age, she is in a miraculous condition.
Her skeleton is almost 100% complete. Around the skeleton is a shadow of the fur, and among the bones, where the intestines would have been, are the fossilised remains of her last meal.
Studying all these features allows us to reconstruct her life history, the way she moved and her diet. There is no primate fossil from the Eocene from which we can learn so much – in fact, there is no primate so well preserved before human burials.
Charles Darwin first proposed and gathered evidence for the theory of evolution by natural selection.
He proposed the idea that species change over time, gradually evolving into new species. But when he published his groundbreaking theory in On the Origin of Species in 1859, there were major gaps in the fossil record.
Just two years later, in 1861, the famous transitional fossil Archaeopteryx was discovered. This beautifully illustrated an intermediate form between dinosaurs and birds, supporting Darwin's ideas.
Watch the video above to hear Jerry Hooker, fossil mammal expert at the Museum, explaining the significance of Ida and where she fits into the story of early primate evolution.