Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oldest American Primates Lived in Trees?

There is new evidence to suggest that the earliest North American human descendants lived not on land, but in the trees. Researchers at Johns Hopkins uncovered toe and ankle bone fossils which belonged to the oldest true American primate, and these bones reveal that our predecessors likely spent most of their lives in trees.

This proposition is in keeping with the fact that other primates like lemurs and hanging monkeys tend to tree-dwell. The early primates whose bones were found likely date to over 56 million years ago (the Epocene Epoch) and these bones were found by the Hopkins research team in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming-- where hundreds of other early Eocene mammal fossils have been found.

The fossil toes found possess not claws but nails, which indicates that they are mophologically similar to living primates and the oldest existing evidence of primitive primates who possessed this modern trait. The ankle bones were also indicative of more modern prosimian morphology, specifically primates which jump frequently. Thus, the specimen at hand was clearly a small, nimble tree-dweller similar to the modern-day bush baby. These findings offer evidence of some surprising primate origins which will allow scientists to continue filling out the North American primate taxonomies and phylogeny charts as we search for the true origins of modern man.


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