The Team

To understand Ida, Jørn Hurum needed the help of scientists with specific areas of expertise - he created his "Dream Team".

  1. Dr Jørn Hurum
  2. Dr Jens Franzen
  3. Professor Philip Gingerich
  4. Dr Jörg Habersetzer
  5. Dr Holly Smith
  6. Professor Wighart von Koenigswald
Dr Jørn Hurum

Dr Jørn Hurum

Jørn Hurum grew up outside Oslo, Norway and knew that he wanted to be a palaeontologist from the age of six.

Hurum studied palaeontology at the University of Oslo as an undergraduate, earning his PhD in 1997, and is now an associate professor in vertebrate palaeontology at the University.

His fieldwork in the Svalbard archipelago, located in the Arctic midway between Norway and the North Pole, has so far resulted in the mapping of forty skeletons of Jurassic marine reptiles. His team's greatest find was a 147 million year old, fifty foot giant sea creature known as 'Predator X'.

Hurum acquired Ida for the University of Oslo Natural History Museum during a visit to a fossil fair in Hamburg in 2006. When he was first shown the photo of Ida, Hurum realised its significance immediately and afterwards 'couldn't sleep for two nights'.

He describes Ida as the 'scientific equivalent of the Holy Grail'.

Back to top

Dr Jens Franzen

Dr Jens Franzen

Dr Jens Lorenz Franzen is a world renowned authority on Messel Pit from the Senkenburg Institute, Frankfurt.

His understanding of the true scientific value of the Messel Pit began in 1973 when a private collector showed him the head of a fossilised bird complete with preserved feathers.

For the next twenty seven years, he devoted his career to fighting for the preservation of the pit and studying its history. His efforts were rewarded in 1995, when UNESCO declared Messel Pit as a World Heritage Site.

Though Franzen had recently retired, when Hurum contacted him, he was thrilled with the opportunity to join the "Dream Team". The day he received Ida's picture and the invitation from Hurum was his 70th birthday, and he emailed Hurum to say, "This is the best birthday present I have ever had!"

For Franzen, Ida is "the 8th wonder of the world".

Back to top

Professor Philip Gingerich

Hurum knew Gingerich's expertise as a specialist on the evolution of Ecoene mammals would be vital in placing Ida on the primate evolutionary tree.

A professor of geological sciences and director of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan, Gingerich has done extensive work on evolution through the Paleocene - Eocene transition.

He has studied the evolution of archaic whales for more than twenty five years, collecting specimens in Pakistan and Egypt. In a groundbreaking find in 2000, he discovered fossils that confirmed that whales evolved not from mesonychids, extinct wolflike animals, but from artiodactyls, the ancestors of hippos and camels.

He says of Ida, "it's really a kind of Rosetta Stone because it ties together parts we haven't been able to associate before".

Back to top

Dr Jörg Habersetzer

Dr Jörg Habersetzer

Based at the Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt, Habersetzer is a world renowned expert in the CT scanning of fossils. Hurum first contacted Habersetzer in order to test the veracity of Ida's fossil through CT scanning. The results revealed that Ida's fossil was 100% genuine - she had no reconstructed elements.

Habersetzer's X-rays and CT scans then provided a vital source of data for the Dream Team, allowing the team to dismantle Ida and see inside her without damaging the fossil. The CT scans revealed a wonderful surprise - Ida had some adult teeth that had not yet erupted, confirming she was less than one year old.

Back to top

Dr Holly Smith

Dr Holly Smith

Holly Smith is an associate research scientist at the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan. She specializes in the evolution of mammalian dentition.

Through an extensive study of Ida's teeth using the Senckenberg CT scans, Smith was able to determine Ida's age and her life expectancy. "She could have lived as long as twenty years, but she would have been an adult in three to four years," Smith concludes. "She was probably a third of the way to being an adult when she died."

Like her fellow scientists, Smith points out that having an early complete specimen to study makes early primate evolution tangible. Smith says Ida has "more information in her than any fossil I've ever seen".

Back to top

Professor Wighart von Koenigswald

Wighart von Koenigswald is based at the University of Bonn where he held the chair of palaeontology from 1987 to 2006. Following his retirement from that post, he continues to pursue his research interests - he is a renowned specialist on enamel in mammals and the evolution of mastication, the process by which food is crushed or ground by teeth.

He started to collect fossils as a schoolboy, inspired by his uncle G H R von Koenigswald who was a distinguished palaeontologist and geologist who conducted pioneering research on hominins, including Homo erectus.

Von Koenigswald has carried out extensive research into Messel Pit, covering its history, the fossils found there and taphonomy (the study of how organisms decay over time and become fossilised).

Back to top