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Fossil find puts a face on early primates
Date:7/14/2010

2009, during a trip focused on finding fossil whales and dinosaurs. Working with the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS), he was exploring an area where geological maps indicated the rocks might contain fossils from the Cretaceous period (145 to 65 million years ago), a time when dinosaurs dominated the land. His first clue that the maps were wrong came when he saw a jawbone sticking out of the sediments and realized it was from a hippo-like animal that lived more recently---around 35 to 33 million years ago.

The next day, he explored a nearby area that seemed more likely to yield older fossils, but again the first thing he found was another fossil from a more recent hippo-like creature.

"I didn't know whether to be disappointed or not, but I thought, well, maybe something interesting will pop up here, so I started looking around," Zalmout said. "Within minutes, I found teeth sticking out of the ground, and when I realized what they were I was shocked. I had worked with Phil on terrestrial mammals in the Bighorn Basin, and my first look at the size and shape of these teeth told me I had found a primitive primate."

Zalmout e-mailed a photo to Gingerich, an expert on early primates as well as ancient whales.

"I knew right away what it was, and I was thrilled," said Gingerich, who is the Ermine Cowles Case Collegiate Professor of Paleontology and director of the U-M Museum of Paleontology. As a student, Gingerich had worked with paleontologist Elwyn Simons, who studied Aegyptopithecus, a primitive catarrhine from the early Oligocene. "Here was something very much like it looking up at me," Gingerich said.

Yahya Al-Mufarreh, head of the paleontology unit at SGS, also was elated. "On the day of the discovery, we could not believe what we had," he said. "We were so lucky and happy to have an experienced paleontologist from Michigan who explained the discovery on site. This discovery is a critical step in paleontology along the Re
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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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