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Thirteen percent of Americans think mankind evolved with no divine intervention.

Ida has seniority as a specimen - she is 20 times older than other fossils linked to human evolution. But the skeleton, 3 feet long including a tail, has also been part of a research tug-of-war for over two decades.

The specimen was discovered in the quarry in 1983 by amateur fossil hunters who split the bones apart, to be sold in two pieces. The smaller piece was purchased by a museum in Wyoming. The Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo eventually acquired the larger specimen, and it has been the centerpiece of Mr. Hurum’s research for two years.

He compared Ida to “an unknown Rembrandt,” explaining that forward-facing eyes, opposing big toes; short face and other features make her part of the anthropoid branch of mammals that include monkeys, apes and humans.

“She has a small, compact body, like us,” Mr. Hurum said.

Earth at the time was a “vast jungle” that already hosted early horses, bats and primates. Ida was not long-lived. She was 9 months old when she died, her belly full of fruits, seeds and leaves.

An X-ray revealed she had a broken wrist that could have contributed to an early death, Mr. Hurum said. He also speculated that Ida drowned in the volcanic Messel Lake, which is now the quarry, after having been overcome by carbon monoxide on the water’s surface.