6.4 million year old fossils have been discovered in China. The small fossil discovered were said to have belonged to a monkey.
The residues were discovered at a southeastern Yunan Province mine.
Researchers from Penn State University have collected a heelbone and jawbone with teeth that are understood to have belonged to a female.
While the fossils appeared like bones of modern-day monkeys living in East Asia, the team discovered that the ancient animals can ferment cellulose – which is similar to that of today’s cows.
According to Nina G. Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology, Penn State: ‘This is significant because they are some of the very oldest fossils of monkeys outside of Africa.’
‘It is close to or actually the ancestor of many of the living monkeys of East Asia. One of the interesting things from the perspective of paleontology is that this monkey occurs at the same place and same time as ancient apes in Asia.’
The Penn State team collaborated with paleontologists at Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology to unearth the mysteries of the residues.
They also reported that ‘The mandible and proximal femur were found in close proximity and are probably of the same individual,’ in a recent issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.
‘The significance of the calcaneus is that it reveals the monkey was well adapted for moving nimbly and powerfully both on the ground and in the trees,’ said Jablonski.
‘This locomotor versatility no doubt contributed to the success of the species in dispersing across woodland corridors from Europe to Asia.’
The teeth from the ancient monkey indicates that it had fed on a variety of plants, fruits and flowers when alive.
‘The thing that is fascinating about this monkey, that we know from molecular anthropology, is that, like other colobines (Old World monkeys), it had the ability to ferment cellulose,’ said Jablonski. ‘It had a gut similar to that of a cow.’
These monkeys lived on low-quality food that had high cellulose, which gave them adequate energy through fermentation that generated subsequent fatty acids from the bacteria.
‘Monkeys and apes would have been eating fundamentally different things,’ said Jablonski.
‘Apes eat fruits, flowers, things easy to digest, while monkeys eat leaves, seeds and even more mature leaves if they have to.’
‘Because of this different digestion, they don’t need to drink free water, getting all their water from vegetation.’