Earliest Primate Skeleton And ‘Cousin’ Of Human Ancestor Discovered In China
An international team of paleontologists has discovered a nearly complete, articulated skeleton of a new tiny, tree-dwelling primate dating back 55 million years. The Eocene Epoch fossil, one of the most primitive primate fossils ever documented, was recovered from Hubei Province in central China.
The research team, led by Xijun Ni of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, describes the fossil in the latest edition of the journal, Nature.
Ni said that while doing fieldwork years ago in Hubei Province, he first came across the fossil, which had been found by a local farmer and was later donated to the IVPP. The fossil was encased within a rock and discovered after the rock was split open, yielding fossils and impressions of the primate on each side of the two halves.
A 3D, high-resolution reconstruction of the skeleton of Archicebus achilles, aided by X-ray
It was discovered in a quarry that had once been a lake and is known for producing ancient fish and bird fossils from the Eocene Epoch. The quarry is near Jingzhou City, south of the Yangtze River, and about 270 kilometers southwest of Wuhan City, the province capital.
“This region would have been a large series of lakes, surrounded by lush tropical forests during the early Eocene,” Ni said.
The fossil has been named Archicebus achilles. The genus, Archi, is Greek for the beginning, and the prefix is attached to cebus, which translates to “long-tailed monkey,” after the long tail of the fossil skeleton. The species name, Achilles, is an allusion to its interesting heel anatomy and named after the mythological Greek warrior, Achilles.
“Archicebus marks the first time that we have a reasonably complete picture of a primate close to the divergence between tarsiers and anthropoids,” Ni said. “It represents a big step forward in our efforts to chart the course of the earliest phases of primate and human evolution.”
The tiny primate has a body that is around 71 mm long and its estimated weight is around 20–30 grams, as small as a modern pygmy mouse lemur. Certain features of the skeleton suggest that the creature was a frequent leaper, favouring four-limbed grasp-leaping as a mode of transport. Small pointy teeth indicate that it ate insects. Large eye sockets indicate that the creature had good vision for hunting, but evidence points towards a diurnal rather than nocturnal activity pattern.
Read the full article at: asianscientist.com
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