Oldest Monkey Fossils outside of Africa found

Researchers have found three (3) monkey fossils in a lignite mine in southeastern Yunan Province, China. The fossils are said to be about 6.4 million years old, thus are considered as the oldest monkey fossils found outside of Africa.

According to Pennsylvania State University, the fossils indicate that monkeys existed in Asia at the same time as apes. In addition, an international team of researchers stated that the fossils are also probably the ancestors of some of the modern monkeys in the area.

“This is significant because they are some of the very oldest fossils of monkeys outside of Africa. It is close to or actually the ancestor of many of the living monkeys of East Asia. One of the interesting things from the perspective of paleontology is that this monkey occurs at the same place and same time as ancient apes in Asia.”

– Nina G. Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology, Penn State on a October 7, 2020 News Release

fossil jawbone of Miocene monkey

Photograph of the fossilized jawbone of a Miocene monkey, M. pentelicus. IMAGE: XUEPING JI, YUNNAN INSTITUTE OF CULTURAL RELICS AND ARCHAEOLOGY

About the Monkey

The fossils have been studied by the researchers, including Jablonski, unearthed from the Shuitangba lignite mine. In a recent issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, they reported that “the mandible and proximal femur were found in close proximity and are probably of the same individual.”

Moreover, in another paper online in the journal, Dionisios Youlatos of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, uncovered a left calcaneus or heel bone that belongs to the same species of monkey, Mesopithecus pentelicus.

fossilized heel bone


According to Jablonski, the calcaneus reveals the monkey was well adapted for moving both on the ground and in the trees. “This locomotor versatility no doubt contributed to the success of the species in dispersing across woodland corridors from Europe to Asia,” added the professor. As suggested by the researchers, these monkeys were probably “jacks of all trades”.

Here are more information about the monkey as provided by Penn State:

  • The lower jawbone and upper portion of the leg bone indicate that it was female
  • The teeth indicate they could eat a wide variety of plants, fruits and flowers
  • These monkeys do not have to live near bodies of water
  • They can survive periods of dramatic climatic change
  • They had the ability to ferment cellulose
  • “It had a gut similar to that of a cow”

Individuals from the Arizona State University and Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Cleveland Museum of Natural History also worked on this project. And it is funded by National Science Foundation, Penn State and Bryn Mawr.

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Source: Penn State University, Daily Mail

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