Perhaps it is fair to say the term missing link is as popular as the term evolution, especially among creationists. When evolution is discussed among the general public it is not uncommon that at some point a question about missing link is raised albeit missing link is an outdated hypothesis that is considered unscientific today.
In the late 19th century, a common misinterpretation of Charles Darwin’s work was that humans were lineally descended from existing species of apes. To accept this theory some fossil ape-man seemed necessary in order to complete the chain. In popular culture, this ape-man was named as the link between modern human and contemporary ape species.
The missing link that never was
After scientists and science enthusiasts spent millions on searching the missing link and pouring thousands of manhours into it, eventually, we have discovered that humans have not evolved from existing ape species. It is just that millions of years ago humans and primates were the same species. There has never been a species that linked humans to existing ape species.
An error of the error
In the twenty-first century, as erroneous as it is, missing link is often used to refer to the species that links modern humans to the ape-like creature that humans evolved from. Additionally, why we still cannot find any fossil of that species.
It is not possible to talk about one ancestor species of modern humans as the link between us and the ape-like species we come from.
If we consider the common ancestor of all apes that lived 14 million years ago as the ape-like ancestor that modern humans evolved from, any one of our ancestor species links us to the common ancestor of apes.
Fossilization is the process by which a plant or animal becomes a fossil. This process is extremely rare, and only a small fraction of the plants and animals that have lived in the past 600 million years are preserved as fossils.
For an ape to fossilize it needs to go through natural phenomena that coincidentally occur. Most commonly:
- An ape dies
- The body of the ape is largely neglected by other animals, and its soft tissue is disintegrated leaving only the skeleton.
- The hard remains of the ape are buried by the geologic processes in a non-acidic environment.
- The original material from which the hard parts were made is destroyed as minerals are slowly dissolved and replaced by new ones.
Fossils of Ancestors
To accept the theory of evolution one does not need the fossils of homo sapiens, because the evidence that points to evolution is in abundance.
Given the rarity of fossilization, it was possible that we had no fossils of our ancestors. However, we are lucky to have found hundreds of human evolution fossils that clearly show both ape and human-like traits.