The Japan Times
October 16, 1999

Tiny fossil could rewrite our history

WASHINGTON (Reuters) Teeth and bits of jaw from a tiny squirrel-sized animal the lived 40 million years ago in what is now Myanmar suggest primates originated in Asia, not Africa as was believed, researchers said Thursday.

A team of researchers from France and Myanmar say the little animal, which they have named Bahinia pondaungensis, was probably the ancestor of modern apes, monkeys and humans.

Jean-Jacques Jaeger of the Universite Montpellier-II in France and colleagues found the fossils in a layer of red clay, along with a complete lower jaw from a more advanced primate called Amphipithecus.

Writing in the journal Science, they say their findings may help decide where the earliest anthropoids — the advanced primates that include humans, monkeys and apes — came from.

"The Bahinia find is important because it tells us that there was a complex community of primates living in Asia, a tremendous anthropoid radiation much earlier than anyone thought," Jaeger said in a statement.

"We didn't have that kind of information about Asia before, only Africa. Now we may have to change our whole story about anthropoid origins and evolution."

The fossilized remains of many early anthropoids have been found in Africa, most from a single rich site in Egypt. Many scientists thus believed that Africa, already believed by many scientists to be the cradle of humanity, also gave rise to earlier ancestors.

But a number of fossils have recently been found in Thailand, China, and Myanmar. They are between 49 million and 33 million years old and include some of the most primitive-looking anthropoids ever found.