WASHINGTON - A new fossil primate from Myanmar suggests that the common ancestor of humans, monkeys and apes evolved from primates in Asia, not Africa, as was earlier believed by researchers.
A major focus of recent paleoanthropological research has been to establish the origin of anthropoid primates (monkeys, apes and humans) from earlier and more primitive primates known as prosimians (lemurs, tarsiers and their extinct relatives).
Prior to recent discoveries in China, Thailand, and Myanmar, most scientists believed that anthropoids originated in Africa.
Earlier this year, the discovery of the fossil primate skeleton known as “Ida” from the Messel oil shale pit in Germany led some scientists to suggest that anthropoid primates evolved from lemur-like ancestors known as adapiforms.
According to Dr. Chris Beard, a paleontologist at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a member of the international team of researchers behind the Myanmar anthropoid findings, the new primate, Ganlea megacanina, shows that early anthropoids originated in Asia rather than Africa.
These early Asian anthropoids differed radically from adapiforms like Ida, indicating that Ida is more closely related to modern lemurs than it is to monkeys, apes and humans.
The 38-million-year-old Ganlea megacanina fossils, excavated at multiple sites in central Myanmar, belong to a new genus and species.
Heavy dental abrasion indicates that Ganlea megacanina used its enlarged canine teeth to pry open the hard exteriors of tough tropical fruits in order to extract the nutritious seeds contained inside.
“This unusual type of feeding adaptation has never been documented among prosimian primates, but is characteristic of modern South American saki monkeys that inhabit the Amazon Basin,” said Dr. Beard.
“Ganlea shows that early Asian anthropoids had already assumed the modern ecological role of modern monkeys 38 million years ago,” he added.
Ganlea and its closest relatives belong to an extinct family of Asian anthropoid primates known as the Amphipithecidae.
Two other amphipithecids, Pondaungia and Myanmarpithecus, were previously discovered in Myanmar, while a third, named Siamopithecus, had been found in Thailand.
A detailed analysis of their evolutionary relationships shows that amphipithecids are closely related to living anthropoids and that all of the Burmese amphipithecids evolved from a single common ancestor. (ANI)