Oldest Primate Fossil Found
Tiny creature from 55M years ago discovered in ancient Chinese lake
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 5, 2013 5:45 PM CDT
An artist's rendering shows what the 'ancient monkey' might have looked like.   (AP Photo/Xijun Ni, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences)

(Newser) – A tiny, funny-looking creature that scampered around what is now China some 55 million years ago might help rewrite the book on primates, reports the BBC. Scientists have concluded that little Archicebus achilles—it weighed about an ounce and was maybe 8 inches long—is the world's oldest primate skeleton. In fact, at 55 million years, it pushes back the date of the first such fossil by about 7 million years, reports Popular Science. It also bolsters the theory that primates got their start in Asia, not Africa, notes the New York Times.

The ancient creature is especially intriguing because it existed at the time of an evolutionary split in primates, with one branch going toward anthropoids (monkeys, apes, and humans) and the other toward tarsiers (small, big-eyed, nocturnal animals). “Any time you find a specimen like this, it’s a bit special,” says a co-author of the report in Nature. "It’s adding a lot of depth of history." The fossil was found in what used to be a lake, back when China and much of Earth was essentially a tropical jungle, one expert tells the BBC.