How were the monkeys of our ancestors

The origin of the early monkeys

Sometimes it takes a little patience, says Jean-Jacques Jaeger, before you can find answers to a question in science. He was now able to answer the question that has been driving the paleontologist from the French Université de Poitiers himself for decades.

"This finding closes a gap in our theory that the origin of the higher primates of Africa lies in Asia. Although we introduced this idea two years ago, we still lacked the really decisive evidence at the time. We have now provided it."

The evidence concerns four primate teeth that Jean-Jacques Jaeger and his colleagues discovered in Myanmar.

"We searched around six tons of material before we saw those four teeth on this strange little animal."

However, Afrasia's teeth cannot be seen with the naked eye. The ape weighed in at just 100 grams during its lifetime around 37 million years ago.

"These teeth are extremely small. We had to use magnifying glasses and microscopes to find them among all the stones in the overburden. We really sorted grain by grain of sand to find individual teeth."

As the generic name Afrasia suggests, the find is intended to emphasize the connection between Asia and Africa. Because it proves that the higher primates first and exclusively developed in Asia before they moved to Africa. Suddenly, the primate fossils that Jean-Jacques Jaeger discovered in Libya two years ago also fit into the theoretical structure. These bones were 39 million years old and are considered to be the oldest representatives of the monkeys ever to be found in Africa. However, it was not clear at the time where the development towards the higher primates took place: in Asia or Africa. The new bones, however, now clearly show that the route went from Asia to Africa. In Asia, researchers can now use fossils to demonstrate the constant development of primates. In Africa, however, these animals appear very late. What is astonishing, however, is the similarity between the old finds from Libya and the new ones from Myanmar, says Jean-Jacques Jaeger.

"The upper molars not only look similar, they are identical! And that is exactly what makes the find so significant. It is not about similarities, but about actual similarities. Only the lower molars have tiny differences, but there is no doubt the fact that we are dealing here with two closely related species. "

The researchers do not yet know how these early primates covered the 8,000 kilometers from Asia to North Africa around 40 million years ago. What is certain is that these animals conquered Africa. Many millions of years later, among other things, those representatives from which our ancestors emerged developed from them. However, such early ape developments regarding the incarnation are pure speculation. Because even 20 million years ago, and thus 19 million years after the appearance of the first little monkeys in Africa, the common ancestors of all great apes still lived, including humans themselves.