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Ancient anthropoid origins discovered in Africa

The fossil teeth and jawbones of two new species of tiny monkey-like creatures that lived 37 million years ago have been sifted from ancient sediments in the Egyptian desert, researchers have reported.

They said their findings firmly establish that the common ancestor of living anthropoids -- including monkeys, apes and humans -- arose in Africa and that the group had already begun branching into many species by that time. Also, they said, one of the creatures appears to have been nocturnal, the first example of a nocturnal early anthropoid.

The researchers published their discovery of the two new species -- named Biretia fayumensis and Biretia megalopsis -- in an article in the October 14, 2005, issue of the journal Science. First author on the paper was Erik Seiffert of the University of Oxford and Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Other co-authors were Elwyn Simons and Prithijit Chatrath of Duke University, William Clyde of the University of New Hampshire, James Rossie of Stony Brook University, Yousry Attia of the Egyptian Geological Museum, Thomas Bown of Erathem-Vanir Geological in Boulder, Colo., and Mark Mathison of Iowa State University. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation. Field work in Egypt was facilitated by the Egyptian Mineral Resources Authority and the Egyptian Geological Museum.

The researchers discovered the fossils over the course of the last few years at a site called Birket Qarun Locality 2 (BQ-2) about 60 miles southwest of Cairo in the Fayum desert. BQ-2 has only been systematically excavated for about four years, said Seiffert, in contrast to a much younger Fayum site, called L-41, which has been explored for the last 22 years by Simons and his colleagues.

"BQ-2 and surrounding localities have tremendous potential, which is exciting because they are so much older than other Fayum sites," said Seiffert. "There will certainly be much more information
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Source:Duke University


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