The ancestors of monkeys, apes and humans may have originated in Asia and not Africa as often thought, new fossils suggest.
The origin of anthropoids—the simians, or “higher primates,” which include monkeys, apes and humans—has been debated for decades among scientists. Although fossils unearthed in Egypt have long suggested that Africa was the cradle for anthropoids, other bones revealed in the last 15 years or so raised the possibility that Asia may be their birthplace.
Now, an international team of scientists has unearthed a new fossil in Southeast Asia that may prove that anthropoids originated in what is now the East, shedding light on a pivotal step in primate and human evolution.
The fossil is named Afrasia djijidae—Afrasia from how early anthropoids are now found intercontinentally in both Africa and Asia, djijidae in memory of a young girl from village of Mogaung in central Myanmar, the nation where the remains were found. The four known teeth of Afrasia were recovered after six years of sifting through tons of sediment, often working with oxcarts, since even cars with four-wheel drive cannot penetrate the area. [See Photos of the Myanmar Primate]
The teeth of 37-million-year-old Afrasia closely resemble those of another early anthropoid, the 38-million-year-old Afrotarsius libycus, recently discovered in the Sahara Desert of Libya. The anthropoids in Libya were far more diverse at that early time in Africa than scientists had thought, which suggested they actually originated elsewhere. The close similarity between Afrasia and Afrotarsius now suggests that early anthropoids colonized Africa from Asia.
This migration from Asia ultimately helps set the stage for the later evolution of apes and humans in Africa. “Africa is the place of origin of man, and Asia is the place of origins of our far ancestors,” researcher Jean-Jacques Jaeger, a paleontologist at the University of Poitiers in France, told LiveScience.