Three fossils found in a lignite mine in southeastern Yunan Province, China, that are about 6.4 million years old, indicate monkeys existed in Asia at the same time as apes, and are probably the ancestors of some of the modern monkeys in the area, according to an international team of researchers.
Nina G. Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology, Penn State, said:
“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.”
The researchers, who included Jablonski and long-time collaborator Xueping Ji, department of paleoanthropology, Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Kunming, China, studied the fossils unearthed from the Shuitangba lignite mine that has yielded many fossils in a recent issue of the Journal of Human Evolution. They report that:
“The mandible and proximal femur were found in close proximity and are probably of the same individual.”
Also uncovered slightly lower was a left calcaneus — heel bone — reported by Dionisios Youlatos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, in another paper online in the journal, which belongs to the same species of monkey, Mesopithecus pentelicus. Jablonski said:
“The significance of the calcaneus is that it reveals the monkey was well adapted for moving nimbly and powerfully 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.”