Last month, CNN and National Geographic reported on a 47-million-year-old fossil discovered in the Messel Pit in Germany, in 1983. The fossil, described as small-cat sized, was of something that has been pinpointed as a predecessor of humans and primates, an animal they've determined would have grown to the size of a lemur. Though the initial discovery happened more than two decades ago, the fossil has been privately held. Last month's report in PLosOne followed two years of intensive forensics study on the primate fossil led by Dr. Jorn Hurum, Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo.
For many students, two years of intensive analysis may sound like a long time to study a set of bones. These bones, of course, are 47-million years old, and the circumstances of their discovery initially masked the fact that the fossil represents a critical splitting point in the evolutionary chain.
To introduce classes and students with a paleontology, genomics, or forensics bent to the concepts and processes involved in evaluating such fossils, check out these Science Buddies science fair project ideas:
- Get Some Practice at 'Fossil' Reconstruction with Owl Pellets (Science Buddies' difficulty level: 6)
- BLAST into the Past to Identify T. Rex's Closest Living Relative (Science Buddies' difficulty level: 8)