Scientist Paid $750,000 for 'Missing Link' Primate Fossil

The paleontologist who captured the public imagination — and was subjected to professional condemnation — with "Ida" the fossil disclosed Wednesday that he paid nearly $750,000 for the specimen.

Jorn Hurum bought the almost-complete skeleton for the Natural History Museum in Oslo from an amateur collector who had kept it in his basement for 25 years. He believes that Ida, a 47-million-year-old primate, is a missing link in human evolution.

Fellow scientists denounced the discovery as hype and criticized Dr. Hurum, saying that the purchase could stimulate a black market in fossils.

Dr. Hurum explained in an interview with The Times why he was willing to pay far more than had been paid for any fossil primate.

"It's the only near-complete fossil primate ever found. There is absolutely nothing like it," he said.

His priority, he said, was to make sure that Ida — named after his seven-year-old daughter — was available for scientific investigation.

"She could easily have been bought by a private collector and disappeared for another 20 years."

The skeleton, which other paleontologists say is far more likely to be an ancestor of lemurs and bush babies than human beings, was unearthed in the Messel pit, a renowned fossil site near Darmstadt in Germany, in 1983.

The anonymous collector kept it in his basement until it was sold to Dr. Hurum in 2007.

• Click here to read more of this story in the Times of London.

• Click here to read the full scientific journal report in PLoS ONE.

• Click here to visit's Evolution & Paleontology Center.