Thursday, 15 July 2010

Sandy monkey

A fossil hunting group from the University of Michigan was looking for whale material in Saudi Arabia when they found a partial skull of an early primate. The paper, published yesterday in Nature, reveals the dating at around 29 million years old and at a time when key evolutionary steps were being taken by our monkey ancestors. This date is only based on accurate datings of nearby finds, though, and the new material has yet to be properly dated. Saadanius hijazensis would have lived in mangrove swamps and been around the size of a baboon. From wounds found on the skull, it looks like it met an unfortunate, bitey-headed end.

The exact dating might yet prove a bit of an issue. Some reporting on the topic has suggested the find brings forward the times of divergences to Old World monkeys and apes from genetic evidence, but this seems difficult to support to me. Firstly, this is one find and more sampling is needed before enough is known about the animal to be clearer about its position on the 'tree'. Secondly, there is no defined time boundary where every living primate suddenly pings into a new species - its a gradual process and in many instances more primitive groups will co-exist with those more developed for considerable periods of time. At the very least, it's a great insight into the facial features of a primate from an important period of their development. Hopefully, a specific expedition for this site will be carried out soon, more examples will be found and a better reconstruction can be made. The finder, Iyad Zalmout, had to leave the skull where he found it for a few days as he had a tight schedule looking for other material. He was worried it might get stamped on by a goat. It wasn't.


Matt Dale said...
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Matt Dale said...

Oh, and by the way - please feel free to contact me with any pedantic grammatical corrections you feel necessary.