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New fossils may be critical missing link in primate evolutionary history

Rick Docksai | Science Recorder | May 16, 2013

New fossils may be critical missing link in primate evolutionary history

Have scientists discovered the missing link?

We humans and all ape and monkey species all come from one family stock, but some 25 million years ago, that ancient family split in two, one branch leading to monkeys, and the other leading to us and the other apes. This is according to Ohio University scientists, who base their assessment on the two new—to us, that is—primate species whose fossilized remains the scientists recently dug up in Tanzania.

The two primate species appear to have lived in the Oligocene epoch, which ran from 34 million to 23 million years ago and was marked by, among other things, the global expansion of grasslands and the restriction of tropical broad-leaf forests to Earth’s equatorial zones. The scientists, who published a report of their findings in Nature, have dubbed one species Nsungwepithecus gunnelli and identified it as the oldest member of the primate group that includes the old world monkeys. They classify the other species, Rukwapithecus fleaglei, as the earliest member yet of our group, the hominoids, which includes gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, gibbons, and orangutans, as well as us humans. The fossils that turned up include a tooth from the old-world monkey group ancestor and a jawbone from the hominoid ancestor.

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