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.

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By Richard Gray , Science Correspondent. The mouse-sized fossil, which was discovered in China, is the earliest known cousin of humans yet to be found. Scientists believe the creature, which has been named Archicebus achilles , provides new insights into where our ancestors first evolved. Rather than evolving in Africa as was believed in the past, the discovery supports theories that the common ancestor of monkeys, apes and humans first appeared in Asia. Researchers say Archicebus belongs on a branch of the primate evolutionary tree that eventually evolved into tarsiers, small mammals with big round eyes that live in Asia.

The fossilised skeleton, however, has some features — like a characteristic heel bone — that are still found in our closest animal relatives today. Eel-like creature identified as 'earliest human ancestor'. Ida the 'missing link' on display. This suggests that the animal probably appeared on Earth very shortly after diverging from the group of animals that includes monkeys and humans. Further analysis of the remains could yet make it a human ancestor, according to the scientists.

The fossil, which is named after the Greek God Achilles due to an odd heel bone it has, was discovered in a slab of slate in the Jingzhou area of eastern China, just south of the Yangtze river, by a local farmer around 10 years ago. The scientists then spent 10 years analysing the fossil using advanced imaging facilities at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.

This allowed them to peer inside the rock to look at details of the skeleton that were hidden and produce a three dimensional image of the remains. They believe Archicebus , which was less than three inches long and would have weighed between 20 to 30 grams, had feet like a small monkey, beady little eyes and sharp molar teeth. It probably ate insects and lived in the branches of the tropical forests that would have covered the area at the start of the Eocene, when mammals started to dominate the Earth.

It would have moved around a lot looking for its next meal climbing and leaping around in the canopy. The researchers undertook a painstaking 10 years of analysis of the fossil in an attempt to head off some of the controversy that has surrounded other recent primate discoveries. In palaeontologists revealed they had found a 47 million primate called Darwinius massillae , nicknamed Ida, that was described as a "missing link" between early primates and humans. Last year scientists also unveiled a rodent like creature called Purgatorius that they claimed was the earliest known primate at 65 million years old, but researchers are still split on whether it was a true primate.

If it is proved not to be a primate then Archicebus could be the earliest example of a primate yet discovered. The results of the analysis of Archicebus are published in the journal Nature. While scientists agree that humans first evolved in Africa, the discovery of the fossil now suggests that was not where our part of the primate family started. Dr Beard believes that our early primate ancestors began developing in Asia before moving to Africa around 35 million years ago.

The foot looks like one from a small monkey, a marmoset. Terms and Conditions. Style Book. Weather Forecast. Accessibility links Skip to article Skip to navigation. Thursday 04 June Archicebus achilles could be humanity's earliest primate cousin A tiny primate that lived 55 million years ago has provided new clues about the origins of the primate ancestors of humans.

An artist rendering of an Archicebus achilles in its natural habitat of trees. Related Articles. Their claims were widely disputed by other scientists. Archicebus achilles. Science News. In Science News. Top news galleries. Telegraph on Facebook. More from The Telegraph.

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Oldest primate skeleton unveiled

As of , it is the oldest fossil haplorhine primate skeleton discovered, [3] [4] 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.


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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.


Tiny, insect-eating animal becomes earliest known primate

The near-complete fossil of a tiny creature unearthed in China in has bolstered the idea that the anthropoid group of primates — whose modern-day members include monkeys, apes and humans — had appeared by at least 55 million years ago. The fossil primate does not belong to that lineage, however: it is thought to be the earliest-discovered ancestor of small tree-dwelling primates called tarsiers, showing that even at this early time, the tarsier and anthropoid groups had split apart. How the ancient primate might have looked, in its natural habitat of trees artistic reconstruction. The mammal sports an odd blend of features, with its skull, teeth and limb bones having proportions resembling those of tarsiers, but its heel and foot bones more like anthropoids. By analysing almost 1, morphological aspects of the fossil and comparing them to those of other extant and extinct mammals, the team put the ancient primate near the base of the tarsier family tree. The creature is dubbed Archicebus achilles , in which the genus name Archicebus roughly translates as 'original long-tailed monkey', while the species name achilles is a wry nod to the primate's anthropoid-like heel bone.

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