Our Oldest Relative?

updated 06/01/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/01/2009 01:00AM

Her time on Earth was short, just nine months. But 47 million years after this monkeylike creature ate her last meal of fruit, seeds and leaves, scientists are pronouncing her one of the most significant fossil finds ever. Her skeleton preserved in unparalleled completeness, Ida is the "stamp for all apes, monkeys and us," says Jørn Hurum, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo, who named the fossil after his 5-year-old daughter.

An amateur fossil hunter found Ida in 1983 while exploring Germany's Messel Shale Pit. Hurum's museum bought her in 2007 for almost $1 million, and scientists spent two years piecing together her life. Most striking: her humanlike opposable thumbs and a talus bone in each foot. On May 25 Ida will make her television debut on the History Channel's The Link (9 p.m. ET/PT). "This little girl," says documentary producer Anthony Geffen of Atlantic Productions, "connects to every person on the planet." revealingthelink.com

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