Fossil Discovery Sheds New Light on Evolution of Higher Primates

Fossil Discovery Sheds New Light on Evolution of Higher Primates

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A team of researchers has announced the discovery of Afrasia djijidae, a new fossil primate from Myanmar that illuminates a critical step in the evolution of early anthropoids — the group that includes humans, apes, and monkeys. The 37-million-year-old Afrasia closely resembles another early anthropoid, Afrotarsius libycus, recently discovered at a site of similar age in the Sahara Desert of Libya. The close similarity between Afrasia and Afrotarsius indicates that early anthropoids colonized Africa only shortly before the time when these animals lived. The colonization of Africa by early anthropoids was a pivotal step in primate and human evolution, because it set the stage for the later evolution of more advanced apes and humans there.

The scientific paper describing the discovery appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For decades, scientists thought that anthropoid evolution was rooted in Africa. However, more recent fossil discoveries in China, Myanmar, and other Asian countries have rapidly altered scientific opinion about where this group of distant human ancestors first evolved. Afrasia is the latest in a series of fossil discoveries that are overturning the concept of Africa as the starting point for anthropoid primate evolution.

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