Sunday, 9 June 2013

Tiny Chinese Archicebus fossil is oldest primate yet found

By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, BBC News

A mouse-sized fossil from China has provided remarkable new insights into the origin of primates.

At 55 million years old, it represents the earliest known member of this broad group of animals that includes humans.

Scientists have called the diminutive creature Archicebus, which roughly translates as "ancient monkey".

They tell Nature magazine that its skeleton helps explain the branching that occurred at the very base of the primate evolutionary tree.

The team puts Archicebus on the line leading to tarsiers, a collection of small arboreal animals now found exclusively in south-east Asia.

But its great age and primitive features mean Archicebus also has much to say about the emergence of the tarsiers' sister grouping - the anthropoids, the primates that include monkeys, apes and us.

And it would suggest that the first of these creatures were, likewise, petite forms scurrying through the tropical canopies that grew to cover the Earth shortly after the dinosaurs' extinction.

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