'Ida' comes 'home' to Oslo

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The suddenly world-famous fossil called “Ida” attracted large crowds over the weekend when she made her debut at the Museum of Natural History in Oslo. Thousands turned out to see the fossil that’s sparked both fascination and criticism.

Officials at the museum, which is linked to the University of Oslo, said they normally receive around 400 visitors during a weekend. The arrival of Ida lured around 3,000 during the course of Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s great fun to see that the interest is so high,” Cecilie Webb, who’s in charge of the exhibit involving Ida, told newspaper Aftenposten .

The fossil is part of a much larger exhibit that opened over the weekend called “Can we forgive Darwin?” It celebrates the 15oth anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s landmark “Origin of Species,” which revolutionized the story of human development.The fossil Ida, believed to be the most intact and oldest of its kind, has been hailed as “the missing link” in the evolution of ancient ape-like creatures and apes into humans. The 47-million-year-old fossil was secretly purchased by the University of Oslo and revealed to the world last month at a splashy news conference in New York.

Debate broke out immediately over just how significant the fossil is for furthering Darwin’s evolution theory. Some have criticized researcher and paleontologist Jørn Hurum, who named the fossil after his young daughter, for blatantly commercializing the discovery and hyping its significance.

Hurum has defended his enthusiasm and own theories around the fossil, which is now on display in a well-secured glass case at the museum (Naturhistorisk museum) in Oslo’s Tøyen district. The exhibit will be open daily, except Mondays, from 11am to 4pm until June 1, 2010 in the museum’s zoological section.

Hurum wasn’t around for the exhibit opening himself, reported Aftenposten , because he was out in the field on new projects.