A "mother lode" of fossils have been found that could shed new light on primate evolution.
The story of human evolution may be completely rewritten based on some fossils discovered in China.
Scientists had thought that our primate ancestors evolved in Africa over millions of years before crossing continents to the places where we are today, according to a University of Kansas statement.
But a discovery in the 1990s in China of the fossil of a small monkey-like creature about 10 million years older than anything found in Africa suggested that ancestors of apes may have lived in Asia before moving.
Now, researchers are starting to put together the puzzle, and have published their findings in the journal Science based on a huge cache of fossils from 10 perviously unkonw species found in the Yunna province in China. This new evidence indicates our primate ancestors evolved in Asia and then sailed across a sea to Africa, and then they became extinct on their home continent because of climate change as the newly established African primates evolved.
It’s a little bit difficult to figure out how they made that crossing, considering monkeys don’t swim. They likely sailed on rafts made of trees, scientists think.
“This has always been an enigma,” K. Christopher Beard, senior curator at the University of Kansas’ Biodiversity Institute and co-author of the report, said in the statement. “We had a lot of evidence previously that the earliest anthropoids originated in Asia. At some point, later in the Eocene, these Asian anthropoids got to Africa and started to diversify there. At some point, the geographic focal point of anthropoid evolution — monkeys, apes and humans — shifted from Asia to Africa. But we never understood when and why. Now, we know. The Eocene-Oligocene climate crisis virtually wiped out Asian anthropoids, so the only place they could evolve to become later monkeys, apes and humans was Africa.”