Weighing in at less than an ounce, Archicebus achilles was smaller than any living primate. After 10 years of exhaustive analysis, an international team of researchers has unveiled a tiny fossil skeleton that is among the oldest primates ever discovered. Dubbed Archicebus achilles , the diminutive creature lived 55 million years ago in a tropical forest in what is now central China, where its body was entombed in rock at the bottom of an ancient lakebed. Now, scientists hope that its fossilized bones will help answer some fundamental questions about how, when, and where our earliest primate ancestors evolved. While most other early primates are represented in the fossil record by a few teeth or a foot bone here and there, A.
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This nearly complete, articulated skeleton of a tiny, tree-dwelling primate named Archicebus achilles was encased within a rock and discovered after the rock was split open, yielding a skeleton and impressions of primate bones on each side of the two rock halves one half is pictured here.
The fossil, discovered by an international team of paleontologists, was found in Hubei Province in central China and dates back 55 million years. The team used 3-D, high-resolution reconstruction to study the fossil, aided by high-tech scanning at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility. Analysis by the team showed the animal was very small and would have weighed less than an ounce, with slender limbs and a long tail.
It would have been an excellent arboreal leaper, was active during the daytime and mainly fed on insects. It will force us to rewrite how the anthropoid lineage evolved.
We see typical robust grasping big toes, long toes and nailed digits of primitive arboreal primates, but we also have rather monkey-looking heel bones and monkey-like long metatarsals, often viewed as advanced features that you would not normally find in a primitive early Eocene fossil primate. We have interpreted this new combination of features as evidence that this fossil is quite primitive and its unique anatomical combination is a link between the tarsier and monkey-ape branches of dry-nosed primates.
This new view suggests that the advanced foot features of anthropoids monkeys and apes are in fact primitive for the entire lineage of dry-nosed primates. To read more about this discovery, see the NIU news story Scientists discover oldest primate skeleton. Date of Image: [See related image Here.
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Oldest primate fossil rewrites evolutionary break in human lineage
The results of the research were published on 6 June in Nature. The fossil, which is 55 million years old and dates from the early Eocene Epoch, was excavated in two separate parts from sedimentary rock strata deposited in an ancient lake. The team of scientists was able to reconstruct the fossil in its entirety by using virtual three-dimensional data of the highest possible quality worldwide, acquired on the ESRF's ID17 beamline. We've been able to reveal microstructures that would normally require partial destruction of the specimens. Tafforeau is a palaeoanthropologist and leading figure in palaeontological applications of synchrotron computed tomography scanning. The scans produced at the ESRF allowed the scientists to piece together the two separate parts of the fossil and digitally reconstruct three-dimensional images of the tiny, fragile skeleton of Archicebus in intricate detail. The new fossil takes its name from the Greek arche meaning beginning or first; the same root as archaeology and the Latin cebus meaning long-tailed monkey.
Archicebus achilles could be humanity's earliest primate cousin
As of , it is the oldest fossil haplorhine primate skeleton discovered,   appearing to be most closely related to tarsiers and the fossil omomyids , although A. Resembling tarsiers and simians monkeys , apes , and humans , it was a haplorhine primate, and it also may have resembled the last common ancestor of all haplorhines as well as the last common ancestor of all primates. Archicebus achilles was named for being the oldest known primate skeleton as of [update] and for its distinguishing calcaneus heel bone. The species name, achilles , is a reference to Achilles , the Greek hero of the Trojan War from Greek mythology. Archicebus achilles exhibits similarities with simians with regard to the shape of its calcaneus and the proportions of its metatarsals , yet its skull, teeth, and appendicular skeleton resemble those of tarsiers. According to phylogenetic analysis , all of these traits taken together suggest it is the most basal member of the tarsiiform clade within the suborder Haplorhini.