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Out of Asia: How Monkey and Ape Ancestors Colonized Africa
This week, I'm going to consider origin stories that go deeper into primate history than questions of when Homo sapiens evolved or when two-legged apes, or hominids, emerged.
Today, let's go really far back, to a time some 40 million years ago known as the Eocene. Monkeys and apes weren't even around yet, although their common ancestor was. But where? The discovery of a new species of Eocene primate is helping address that question.
Until about 20 years ago, the answer seemed obvious: Africa. That's where the earliest fossil evidence was found, mainly from Egypt's Fayum Depression. Starting in the 1990s, however, relevant fossils started popping up in Asia. Paleoanthropologists now consider a 45-million-year-old primate discovered in China, called Eosimias, to be the earliest anthropoid, the group of primates that includes monkeys, apes and humans. Eosimias was tiny, weighing less than half a pound. But it possessed certain dental and jaw characteristics that link it to living anthropoids.