The report's first author is Sunil Bajpai, an earth scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology who directed excavations at the Vastan lignite coal mine in western India that unearthed the fossils.
Bajpai's Indian team managed to find and remove the tiny Anthrasimias tooth specimens from a strata in the mine while "really gigantic trucks" scooped up coal above them, Kay said. The teeth were dated by identifying microscopic marine plankton fossils of known age in nearby rock layers, he added.
Bajpai's team was funded by India's Department of Science and Technology. Work by Williams and Kay, who are anthropoid experts, was funded the Duke Provost's Research Fund and the National Science Foundation.
Their PNAS report describes tooth structure differences that would separate Anthrasimias from two other ancient lines of primates whose remains have been found at the same level of the Vastan mine. Of the three lines, Williams and Kay believe only Anthrasimias's is part of the anthropoid lineage that evolved into modern monkeys, apes and humans.
"Most of the fossil record of ancient primates is made up of teeth, because teeth are easy to preserve and hard," Williams said. "Occasionally we get lucky enough to have a skull to work with, but in this case a few teeth is all we have." Their PNAS report described two upper molars and one lower molar.
"From the tooth size and structure we can say something about the animals' body weight and diet, because teeth have crests that are differentially developed depending on whether they ate primarily insects, leaves or fruit," he said. But without more body parts, Kay and Williams declined to deduce what the animals looked like.
|Contact: Monte Basgall|