Four fossilised teeth found in a coal mine in Gujarat could be the oldest remains of anthropoids — the primate lineage of monkeys, apes and humans, say researchers from Duke University and the Indian Institute of Technology.
The new species named Anthrasimias gujaratensis is believed to have walked the earth around 55 million years ago. The discovery of the tiny teeth reopens the debate on the centre of anthropoid origin — as previous research had suggested that the earliest primates could have lived in Africa or China. Details of the study
were published in September in the American scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where researchers wrote: “Anthrasimias may be the oldest anthropoid in the world.”
“Anthrasimias is the oldest anthropoid found in Asia. The previous record of the oldest anthropoids found in Africa is currently being disputed — the Indian find could be the world’s oldest as well,” said Professor Sunil Bajpai of IIT-Roorkee.
The specimen which represents a new species of anthropoid was named from the Greek word ‘Anthra’ meaning coal, Latin ‘simias’ for monkey, and Gujarat where the teeth were found.
The teeth measuring 9/1,000th of a square inch was excavated in 2006 by a team of scientists led by Bajpai and students and included Professor Richard Kay of Duke University and Dr BN Tiwari of the Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology.
“We found four teeth from lignite-bearing rocks collected in a mine at Vastan,
near Surat, and we were able to identify them as anthropoids in the lab only after microscopic examination. Detailed analysis and evaluation of their significance took us nearly two years,” informed Bajpai.
Research conducted by the team found that the early primate, which is about the same size as a rat weighing barely 75-80 gm and the shape of its teeth suggest that it survived on fruits and insects.
Extensive analysis of the teeth involving 75 primates, both fossils and their modern relatives were conducted by the team.
The report describes tooth structure differences that would separate Anthrasimias from two other ancient lines of primates whose remains have also been found at the same mine. Of the three lines, the scientists believe that only Anthrasimias is part of the anthropoid lineage that evolved into modern monkeys, apes and humans.