6 Jun 2013

Mouse-sized fossil provides clues to origin of primates

9:31 am on 6 June 2013

Chinese researchers have found what is thought to be the oldest primate fossil discovered.

The mouse-sized fossil discovered in China's Hubei province is providing new insights into the origin of primates, the BBC reports.

At 55 million years old, it represents the earliest known member of this broad group of animals that includes humans.

The scientists believe it is among the first primates to evolve after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

They have called the diminutive creature Archicebus, which roughly translates as "ancient monkey".

The specimen was originally discovered in the Jingzhou area of Hubei Province some 10 years ago by a local farmer, but Dr Xijun Ni from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues have deliberately taken their time to describe the creature and assess its importance.

The scientists have told Nature magazine that its skeleton helps explain the branching that occurred at the very base of the primate evolutionary tree.