Ancient primate fossil discovery in India

This 2014 video Lecture 16 Early Primate Evolution.

From the University of Southern California in the USA:

Newfound primate teeth take a big bite out of the evolutionary tree of life

The new species of primate from India is distantly related to the lemurs of Madagascar

February 28, 2017


Fossil hunters have found part of an ancient primate jawbone related to lemurs — the primitive primate group distantly connected to monkeys, apes and humans, a researcher reports. Scientists named the new species Ramadapis sahnii and said that it existed 11 to 14 million years ago. It is a member of the ancient Sivaladapidae primate family, consumed leaves and was about the size of a house cat.

Fossil hunters have found part of an ancient primate jawbone related to lemurs — the primitive primate group distantly connected to monkeys, apes and humans, a USC researcher said.

Biren Patel, an associate professor of clinical cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has been digging for fossils in a paleontologically rich area of Kashmir in northern India for six years. Although paleontologists have scoured this region for a century, relics of small extinct primates were rarely found or studied.

Scientists named the new species Ramadapis sahnii and said that it existed 11 to 14 million years ago. It is a member of the ancient Sivaladapidae primate family, consumed leaves and was about the size of a house cat, said Patel, co-author of the new study in the Journal of Human Evolution.

“Among the primates, the most common ones in the Kashmir region are from a genus called Sivapithecus, which were ancestral forms of orangutans,” Patel said. “The fossil we found is from a different group on the primate family tree — one that is poorly known in Asia. We are filling an ecological and biogeographical gap that wasn’t really well documented. Every little step adds to the understanding of our human family tree because we’re also primates.”

The last primate found in the area was 38 years ago. So, in addition to being a new species, this is the first primate fossil found in the area in decades.

“In the past, people were interested in searching for big things — things they could show off to other people,” Patel said. “A lot of the small fossils were not on their radar.”

The inch-and-a-quarter partial mandible belongs to a primate weighing less than 11 pounds that had outlived its other adapidae cousins found in North America, Europe and Africa by millions of years.

“New primates are always a hot topic, and this one is the first of its kind from its area in Asia, which has significant consequences for understanding primate evolution in the Old World,” said Michael Habib, an assistant professor of clinical cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine who was not involved in the study.

The question that remains is how the ecosystem in northern India supported this species when its relatives elsewhere were disappearing or had already gone extinct. Future fieldwork and recovering more fossil primates will help answer this question.

“People want to know about human origins, but to fully understand human origins, you need to understand all of primate origins, including the lemurs and these Sivaladapids,” Patel said. “Lemurs and sivaladapids are sister groups to what we are — the anthropoids — and we are all primates.”

Researchers from Hunter College of the City University of New York, New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology, Arizona State University, Stony Brook University and Panjab University also contributed to this study, which was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the Institute of Human Origins and funding from some of the involved universities.

Primate ancestry, new research

This video says about itself:

24 April 2014

From opposable thumbs to bipedalism, follow the human evolution timeline in this gripping biology video that’s perfect for the classroom.

All primates, including humans, evolved from a common ancestor 50 million years ago. Our shared evolutionary history has resulted in many shared features, like hands that grasp and forward-facing eyes. Watch Neil Shubin find evidence of evolution in modern-day squirrel monkeys.

For more videos on human evolution, see our evolution playlist.

From Science News:

Picture of primate common ancestor coming into focus

New family tree analysis points to nocturnal, rodent-sized, tree-climbing critter

By Erin Wayman

7:00am, October 29, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY — The earliest primate was a tiny, solitary tree dweller that liked the night life. Those are just some conclusions from new reconstructions of the primate common ancestor, presented October 27 at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Eva Hoffman, now a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, and colleagues at Yale University looked at behavioral and ecological data from 178 modern primate species. Examining patterns of traits across the primate family tree, the researchers inferred the most likely characteristics of ancestors at different branching points in the tree — all the way back to the common ancestor.

This ancient primate, which may have lived some 80 million to 70 million years ago, was probably no bigger than a guinea pig, lived alone and gave birth to one offspring at a time, the researchers suggest. Living in trees and active at night, the critter probably ventured out to the ends of tree branches to eat fruits, leaves and insects.

But this mix of traits probably didn’t arise in primates, Hoffman says. After adding tree shrews and colugosprimates’ closest living relatives — to the analysis, the researchers concluded these same attributes were also present in the three groups’ common ancestor. So explanations of early primate evolution that rely on these features need to be reconsidered, Hoffman says.

Stone age monkeys and humans

This video says about itself:

13 October 2016

Clip of capuchin stone on stone percussion and licking of passive hammer associated with capuchin grooming.

Credit: M. Haslam and the Primate Archaeology Group (University of Oxford)

From Science News:

Wild monkeys throw curve at stone-tool making‘s origins

Unlike early hominids, capuchins don’t use sharp-edged rocks to dig or cut

By Bruce Bower

1:00pm, October 19, 2016

A group of South American monkeys has rocked archaeologists’ assumptions about the origins of stone-tool making.

Wild bearded capuchin monkeys in Brazil use handheld stones to whack rocks poking out of cliffs and outcrops. The animals unintentionally break off sharp-edged stones that resemble stone tools made by ancient members of the human evolutionary family, say archaeologist Tomos Proffitt of the University of Oxford and his colleagues. It’s the first observation of this hominid-like rock-fracturing ability in a nonhuman primate.

The new finding indicates that early hominids needed no special mental ability, no fully opposable thumbs and not even any idea of what they were doing to get started as toolmakers, the researchers report October 19 in Nature. All it may have taken was a penchant for skillfully pounding rocks, as displayed by capuchins when cracking open nuts (SN Online: 4/30/15).

Archaeologists have traditionally thought that ancient stone tools appeared as hominid brains enlarged and hand grips became more humanlike.

“Without the intention of making a stone tool, and with the right rock types, capuchins produce objects that are shaped like stone tools,” says University of Oxford primatologist and archaeologist Susana Carvalho, who did not participate in the new study. She suspects the earliest known stone tools were made either by relatively small-brained hominids or, perhaps in some cases, nonhuman primates. “This is not a wild idea anymore.”

The oldest known hominid stone artifacts — a set of pounding rocks and sharp-edged stone flakes — date to 3.3 million years ago in East Africa (SN: 6/13/15, p. 6). Those tools display more elaborate modifications than observed on sharp-edged capuchin creations, Proffitt says. But researchers suspect simpler hominid tools go back 4 million years or more.  Those implements might have looked more like what the South American monkeys make, he speculates.

Three capuchins tracked during an episode of rock pounding did not use fractured pieces of sharp stone to cut, scrape or dig up anything. Observations of nearly 100 rounds of rock pounding show that the monkeys sometimes recycled stone flakes as rock-pounding tools. They also often licked or sniffed powdered stone produced as they pounded rocks. Perhaps capuchins want to ingest the trace nutrient silicon, which assists in bone growth, or find lichens for some medicinal purpose, Proffitt suggests.

His team studied 60 stone fragments left behind by capuchins after rock-pounding episodes and another 51 capuchin-modified stones found in two excavations where rock pounding occurred. These artifacts included complete and broken pounding stones, stone flakes and stones that had been struck by rock-wielding monkeys.

Capuchin stone flakes are smaller and contain fewer fractured areas than ancient hominid tools, such as the 3.3-million-year-old East African finds, says archaeologist David Braun of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. But sharp-edged stones produced by the monkeys display “remarkable similarity” to artifacts from a nearby Brazilian site that some researchers think were made by humans more than 20,000 years ago (SN: 10/18/14, p. 14), Braun says. Researchers now must determine whether stone artifacts found at several South American sites dating to more than 14,000 years ago were made by humans or monkeys, he suggests.

Capuchin rock smashers’ inadvertently sharpened debris also raises questions about how hominids started making tools in the first place. Techniques for using one stone to pound away pieces of another stone, creating a rock with smooth faces bordered by razor-sharp edges, “could have been invented independently in different hominid species through [stone-pounding] behaviors we have yet to identify,” Proffitt says.

Those initial tools may have resembled capuchins’ accidentally sharpened stones or even rocks used by chimpanzees to crack nuts, says archaeologist Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University in New York. But only hominids, and especially humans, went on to make more sophisticated stone tools and, later, everything from smart phones to space stations, says Harmand, who led the team that discovered the 3.3-million-year-old hominid tools.

Human evolution, fire and smoke

This video says about itself:

Smoking Causes Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema

20 jul. 2012

This 3D medical animation created by Nucleus Medical Media shows the health risks of smoking tobacco.

ID#: ANH12071


Every time you smoke a cigarette, toxic gases pass into your lungs, then into your bloodstream, where they spread to every organ in your body. A cigarette is made using the tobacco leaf, which contains nicotine and a variety of other compounds. As the tobacco and compounds burn, they release thousands of dangerous chemicals, including over forty known to cause cancer. Cigarette smoke contains the poisonous gases carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, as well as trace amounts of cancer-causing radioactive particles. All forms of tobacco are dangerous, including cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco and snuff.

Nicotine is an addictive chemical in tobacco. Smoking causes death. People who smoke typically die at an earlier age than non-smokers. In fact, 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States is linked to cigarette smoking.

If you smoke, your risk for major health problems increases dramatically, including: heart disease, heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, and death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Smoking causes cardiovascular disease.

When nicotine flows through your adrenal glands, it stimulates the release of epinephrine, a hormone that raises your blood pressure. In addition, nicotine and carbon monoxide can damage the lining of the inner walls in your arteries. Fatty deposits, called plaque, can build up at these injury sites and become large enough to narrow the arteries and severely reduce blood flow, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis. In coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis narrows the arteries that supply the heart, which reduces the supply of oxygen to your heart muscle, increasing your risk for a heart attack. Smoking also raises your risk for blood clots because it causes platelets in your blood to clump together. Smoking increases your risk for peripheral vascular disease, in which atherosclerotic plaques block the large arteries in your arms and legs. Smoking can also cause an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which is a swelling or weakening of your aorta where it runs through your abdomen.

Smoking damages two main parts of your lungs: your airways, also called bronchial tubes, and small air sacs called alveoli. Cigarette smoke irritates the lining of your bronchial tubes, causing them to swell and make mucus. Cigarette smoke also slows the movement of your cilia, causing some of the smoke and mucus to stay in your lungs. While you are sleeping, some of the cilia recover and start pushing more pollutants and mucus out of your lungs. When you wake up, your body attempts to expel this material by coughing repeatedly, a condition known as smoker’s cough. Over time, chronic bronchitis develops as your cilia stop working, your airways become clogged with scars and mucus, and breathing becomes difficult.

Your lungs are now more vulnerable to further disease. Cigarette smoke also damages your alveoli, making it harder for oxygen and carbon dioxide to exchange with your blood. Over time, so little oxygen can reach your blood that you may develop emphysema, a condition in which you must gasp for every breath and wear an oxygen tube under your nose in order to breathe.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are collectively called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD is a gradual loss of the ability to breathe for which there is no cure.

Cigarette smoke contains at least 40 cancer-causing substances, called carcinogens, including cyanide, formaldehyde, benzene, and ammonia. In your body, healthy cells grow, make new cells, then die. Genetic material inside each cell, called DNA, directs this process. If you smoke, toxic chemicals can damage the DNA in your healthy cells. As a result, your damaged cells create new unhealthy cells, which grow out of control and may spread to other parts of your body. Cigarettes can cause cancer in other parts of your body, such as: in the blood and bone marrow, mouth, larynx, throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, uterus, and cervix.

Smoking can cause infertility in both men and women. If a woman is pregnant and smokes during pregnancy, she exposes her baby to the cigarette’s poisonous chemicals, causing a greater risk of: low birth weight, miscarriage, preterm delivery, stillbirth, infant death, and sudden infant death syndrome. Smoking is also dangerous if a mother is breastfeeding. Nicotine passes to the baby through breast milk, and can cause restlessness, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, interrupted sleep, or diarrhea.

Other health effects of smoking include: low bone density and increased risk for hip fracture among women; gum disease, often leading to tooth loss and surgery; immune system dysfunction and delayed wound healing; and sexual impotence in men.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Are modern humans simply bad at smoking?

Published on 21 September 2016

Scientists looked for the genetic footprint of fire use in our genes, but found that our prehistoric cousins – the Neanderthals – and even the great apes seem better at dealing with the toxins in smoke than modern humans.

Mixed blessing

The art of making and using fire was one of the greatest discoveries ‘ever made by man’, wrote Charles Darwin. Besides providing protection against cold temperatures, the use of fire in food preparation and the introduction of energy-rich cooked foods in our prehistoric diet had a major impact in the development of humankind. However, fire use comes at a cost. Exposure to the toxic compounds in smoke carries major risks for developing pneumonia, adverse pregnancy outcomes in women and reduced sperm quality in males, as well as cataracts, tuberculosis, heart disease, and chronic lung disease. In short, the use of fire is a mixed blessing.


This mixed blessing, however, put researchers at Leiden University and Wageningen University on the trail of finding genetic markers for the use of fire in prehistoric and recent humans. The use of fire is notoriously difficult to ‘see’ for archaeologists, and this has led to strong disagreement over the history of its usage. A very early start is advocated by Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham, who argues that our Homo erectus ancestors were already using fire around two million years ago. However, numerous excavations and intensive research carried out by archaeologists in Europe and the Near East suggest that control of fire occurred much later, around 350,000 years ago.

Genetic markers for fire use

In order to bring fresh data into this ‘hot’ debate, the Leiden/Wageningen team studied the biological adaptations of prehistoric and recent humans to the toxic compounds of smoke: fire usage implies frequent exposure to hazardous compounds from smoke and heated food, which is expected to result in the selection of gene variants conferring an improved defence against these toxic compounds. To study whether such genetic selection indeed occurred, the team investigated the gene variants occurring in Neanderthals, in Denisovans (contemporaries of the Neanderthals, more related to them than to modern humans), and in prehistoric modern humans.


Single nucleotide variants in 19 genes were tested that are known from modern tobacco-smoking studies to increase the risk of fertility and reproduction problems when exposed to smoke and hazardous compounds formed in heated food.

These genes were compared with variants observed in Neanderthals and their Denisovan cousins, and were also studied in chimpanzees and gorillas, two closely related species that are obviously not using fire, and are therefore not exposed to smoke on a regular basis.

Neanderthal more efficient in handling smoke?

In a study now published in PLOS ONE, the team shows that Neanderthals and the Denisovan predominantly possessed gene variants that were more efficient in handling the toxic compounds in smoke than modern humans. Surprisingly, these efficient variants were also observed in chimpanzees and gorillas, and therefore appeared to be evolutionary very old (ancestral) variants.

Plant toxins

The less efficient variants are observable from the first modern human hunter-gatherers for which we have genetic information onward, i.e. from about 40,000 years ago. The efficient defence against toxic compounds in chimpanzees and gorillas may be related to the toxins in their plant food. Smoke defence capacities in humans apparently hitchhike on those adaptations, developed deep in our primate past. Our prehistoric ancestors were probably already good at dealing with the toxic compounds of smoke, long before they started producing it through their campfires. What allowed for the emergence of less efficient hazardous chemical defence genes in modern humans is a question for future research.

Traces of long-lost human cousins may be hiding in modern people’s DNA, a new computer analysis suggests. People from Melanesia, a region in the South Pacific encompassing Papua New Guinea and surrounding islands, may carry genetic evidence of a previously unknown extinct hominid species, Ryan Bohlender reported October 20 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. That species is probably not Neandertal or Denisovan, but a different, related hominid group, said Bohlender, a statistical geneticist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “We’re missing a population or we’re misunderstanding something about the relationships,” he said: here.

Ancient Indian primates discovered

This video is called 54 Million Year Old Fossils Point To India As Key In Primate Evolution.

From Science News:

Fossils hint at India’s crucial role in primate evolution

Limb bones may reveal what common ancestor looked like

By Bruce Bower

9:00am, September 8, 2016

Remarkably preserved bones of rat-sized creatures excavated in an Indian coal mine may come from close relatives of the first primatelike animals, researchers say.

A set of 25 arm, leg, ankle and foot fossils, dating to roughly 54.5 million years ago, raises India’s profile as a possible hotbed of early primate evolution, say evolutionary biologist Rachel Dunn of Des Moines University in Iowa and her colleagues. Bones from Vastan coal mine in Gujarat, India’s westernmost state, indicate that these tiny tree-dwellers resembled the first primates from as early as 65 million years ago, the scientists report in the October Journal of Human Evolution.

These discoveries add to previously reported jaws, teeth and limb bones of four ancient primate species found in the same mine. “The Vastan primates probably approximate a common primate ancestor better than any fossils found previously,” says paleontologist and study coauthor Kenneth Rose of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The Vastan animals were about the size of living gray mouse lemurs and dwarf lemurs, weighing roughly 150 to 300 grams (roughly half a pound), the investigators estimate. Dunn’s group has posted 3-D scans of the fossils to (SN: 3/19/16, p. 28) so other researchers can download and study the material.

Most Vastan individuals possessed a basic climbing ability unlike the more specialized builds of members of the two ancient primate groups that gave rise to present-day primates, the researchers say. One of those groups, omomyids, consisted of relatives of tarsiers, monkeys and apes. The other group, adapoids, included relatives of lemurs, lorises and bushbabies. The Indian primates were tree-dwellers but could not leap from branch to branch like lemurs or ascend trees with the slow-but-sure grips of lorises, the new report concludes.

Vastan primates probably descended from a common ancestor of omomyids and adapoids, the researchers propose. India was a drifting landmass headed north toward a collision with mainland Asia when the Vastan primates were alive. Isolated on a huge chunk of land, the Indian primates evolved relatively slowly, retaining a great number of ancestral skeletal traits, Rose suspects.

“It’s possible that India played an important role in primate evolution,” says evolutionary anthropologist Doug Boyer of Duke University. A team led by Boyer reported in 2010 that a roughly 65-million-year-old fossil found in southern India might be a close relative of the common ancestor of primates, tree shrews and flying lemurs (which glide rather than fly and are not true lemurs).

One possibility is that primates and their close relatives evolved in isolation on the island continent of India between around 65 million and 55 million years ago, Boyer suggests. Primates then spread around the world once India joined Asia by about 50 million years ago.

That’s a controversial idea. An increasing number of scientists suspect primates originated in Asia. Chinese primate fossils dating to 56 million to 55 million years ago are slightly older than the Vastan primates (SN: 6/29/13, p. 14; SN: 1/3/04, p. 4). The Chinese finds show signs of having been omomyids.

And in at least one respect, Boyer says, some of the new Vastan fossils may be more specialized than their discoverers claim. Vastan ankle bones, for instance, look enough like those of modern lemurs to raise doubts that the Indian primates were direct descendants of primate precursors, he holds.

Dunn, however, regards the overall anatomy of the Vastan fossils as “the most direct evidence we have” that ancestors of early primates lacked lemurs’ leaping abilities, contrary to what some researchers have argued.

Madagascar dwarf lemurs, sleep and hibernation

This video from the USA says about itself:

2 May 2013

Two new species of dwarf lemurs have been found hibernating during the lean months of winter in Eastern Madagascar. Scientific Reports, May 2, 2013. An interview with researcher Marina Blanco, PhD, with footage from field research and still images from the Duke Lemur Center. See story here.

From Science News:

Dwarf lemurs don’t agree on sleep

Fat-tailed species dozes during hibernation, but latest tests find different twist in relatives

By Susan Milius

10:00am, September 5, 2016

Contrary to many adorable children’s stories, hibernation is so not sleeping. And most animals can’t do both at the same time.

So what’s with Madagascar’s dwarf lemurs? The fat-tailed dwarf lemur slows its metabolism into true hibernation, and stays there even when brain monitoring shows it’s also sleeping. But two lemur cousins, scientists have just learned, don’t multitask. Like other animals, they have to rev their metabolisms out of hibernation if they want a nap.

Hibernating animals, in the strictest sense, stop regulating body temperature, says Peter Klopfer, cofounder of the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, N.C. “They become totally cold-blooded, like snakes.” By this definition, bears don’t hibernate; they downregulate, dropping their body temperatures only modestly, even when winter den temperatures sink lower. And real hibernation lasts months, disqualifying short-termers such as subtropical hummingbirds. The darting fliers cease temperature regulation and go truly torpid at night. “You can pick them out of the trees,” Klopfer says.

The fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Cheirogaleus medius, was the first primate hibernator discovered, snuggling deep into the softly rotting wood of dead trees. “You’d think they’d suffocate,” he says. But their oxygen demands plunge to somewhere around 1 percent of usual. As trees warm during the day and cool at night, so do these lemurs. When both a tree and its inner lemur heat up, the lemur’s brain activity reflects mammalian REM sleep.

Klopfer expected much the same from two other dwarf lemurs from an upland forest with cold, wet winters. There, C. crossleyi and C. sibreei spend three to seven months curled up underground, below a thick cushion of fallen leaves. “If you didn’t know better, you might think they were dead because they’re cold to the touch,” Klopfer says.

Unlike the tree-hibernators, the upland lemurs take periodic breaks from hibernating to sleep, Klopfer, the Lemur Center’s Marina Blanco and colleagues report in the August Royal Society Open Science. The lemurs generated some body heat of their own about once a week, which is when their brains showed signs of sleep (REM-like and slow-wave).  “My suspicion is that sleep during torpor is only possible at relatively high temperatures, above 20º Celsius,” Klopfer says. Sleep may be important enough for cold-winter lemurs to come out of the storybook “long winter’s nap.”

Ancient hominin Lucy died by fall from tree

This video says about itself:

Lucy fell from a tree 3.18 million years ago

29 August 2016

Lucy died after falling from a tree, new research suggests. Lucy is a 3.18-million-year-old specimen of Australopithecus afarensis considered one of the oldest and most complete fossil hominins, an erect-walking human ancestor.

From Nature:

Perimortem fractures in Lucy suggest mortality from fall out of tall tree

Published online 29 August 2016

The Pliocene fossil ‘Lucy’ (Australopithecus afarensis) was discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 1974 and is among the oldest and most complete fossil hominin skeletons discovered.

Here we propose, on the basis of close study of her skeleton, that her cause of death was a vertical deceleration event or impact following a fall from considerable height that produced compressive and hinge (greenstick) fractures in multiple skeletal elements. Impacts that are so severe as to cause concomitant fractures usually also damage internal organs; together, these injuries are hypothesized to have caused her death.

Lucy has been at the centre of a vigorous debate about the role, if any, of arboreal locomotion in early human evolution. It is therefore ironic that her death can be attributed to injuries resulting from a fall, probably out of a tall tree, thus offering unusual evidence for the presence of arborealism in this species.

Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has studied Lucy and other Australopithecus fossils, and he doesn’t think there is enough evidence to say how Lucy died. “Most, if not all of the breaks appear to be the result of geological processes well after the time of death,” he tells NPR’s Christopher Joyce. “Fossilization makes bones brittle, and when fossils are embedded in sediment they are often cracked, crushed, and distorted”: here.

Fossil autopsy claims Lucy fell from tree. Disputed analysis says early hominid broke multiple bones: here.

Buff upper arms let Lucy climb trees. Arm, leg bone X-ray data provide clues to famous hominid’s mobility. By Bruce Bower, 2:00pm, November 30, 2016: here.