Tiny Archicebus Fossil of Oldest Primate discovered in China

Jun 7, 2013 16:56 IST

Tiny Archicebus FossilScientists, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China discovered a mouse-sized fossil, which provided new insights into the origin of Primates. The discovered fossil is 55 million years old and represents the earliest known member of the group of animals that includes humans. Scientists have named this creature Archicebus, which means ancient monkey.  

This specimen was discovered some ten years ago in the Jingzhou area of Hubei Province in China, by a local farmer but the researchers took time to describe the creature and its importance. The fossil of the Archicebus was discovered from two slate slabs and the scientists have discovered most of the key bones of the animal, which includes impression of its feet and rear limbs.

The skeleton of the discovered fossil explains the branch that occurred at the very base of the primitive evolutionary tree. Archicebus has been put on the line that leads to tarsiers. Tarsiers are the collection of small arboreal animals that are found in south-east Asia.  Archicebus will also help in understanding the emergence of tarsiers sister grouping – the anthropoids (primates that include monkey, ape and human).

The fossil suggests that these small creatures grew to cover the earth soon after the extinction of dinosaurs. It also suggests that the human ancestors were small animals, who were quite active and nimble and lived on trees.

To study the fossil, the delicate slate pieces were sent to Grenoble, France for being imaged at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF).

This giant machine uses brilliant X-rays to try to discern details of the skeleton that remain hidden inside the rock. The detailed study allowed the scientists to come up with the picture of the type of which Archicebus looked like. Thus it helped them to weigh its relationship with the primates and an idea about the first primates of earth a period when the earth was gripped in a period of outstanding global warming.

Skeleton of Archicebus suggests that it used leap and grasp motion to move in the forests that covered the earth at that time. The pointed teeth indicate that it survived on insects and had high metabolic rate. Large eye sockets hint that they had good vision and were day time operators not a nocturnal animal.

The finding of the report was published in Nature Magazine.

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