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Local Scientists Help Announce Discovery Of Oldest Primate Skeleton

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This fossil primate was encased within a rock and discovered after the rock was split open, yielding a skeleton and impressions of primate bones on each side of the two rock halves. One half is shown here. (Photo Credit: Dr. Xijun Ni, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing)

This fossil primate was encased within a rock and discovered after the rock was split open, yielding a skeleton and impressions of primate bones on each side of the two rock halves. One half is shown here. (Photo Credit: Dr. Xijun Ni, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing)

CHICAGO (CBS) – A local husband and wife team of anthropologists have co-authored research regarding the discovery of a tiny monkey fossil that is one of the most complete and oldest fossils ever found.

“It’s pretty cool, there’s no way around it,” Northern Illinois University professor Dan Gebo said of the discovery of a 55 million-year-old skeleton of a tiny, tree-dwelling primate.

WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports the fossil is nearly complete, and was found in central China in 2002.

“It represents a common ancestor for two major lineages of primates – one of which is the monkeys, apes and man on one side; and the tarsier,” Gebo’s wife, Northwestern University professor Marian Dagosto said. Tarsiers are small, nocturnal, tree-dwelling primates found in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The fossil has been named Archicebus Achilles. The genus, Archi, is Greek for the beginning, and cebus translates to “long-tailed monkey.” Achilles alludes to the anatomy of the fossil’s heel and the mythological Greek warrior, for whom the Achilles tendon is named, due to his one fabled weak spot.

Artistic rendering of how the ancient primate Archicebus Achilles might have looked, in its natural habitat of trees. (Credit: Dr. Xijun Ni)

Artistic rendering of how the ancient primate Archicebus Achilles might have looked, in its natural habitat of trees. (Credit: Dr. Xijun Ni)

The Archicebus has a unusual blend of anatomical features never before seen in the same combination, and is radically different from any other living or fossilized primate, researchers said.

“You rarely find a complete skeleton, let alone one this early. So, in terms of that, this is a find maybe once every 50, maybe 100 years actually,” Gebo said.

Gebo and Dagosto, along with other scientists, have described the discovery in detail in the scientific journal Nature.

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