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Newly-discovered Oldest Known Primate Fossil Suggests Our First Ancestor Saw Dinosaurs

Representative image.

Representative image.

The fossils belong to genus Purgatorius which is recognised by most biologists to belong in group plesiadapiforms — oldest known primate.

By the time humans arrived on the scene, dinosaurs had long vanished from the face of the Earth. However, recent findings suggest the seed of creating humans (and other primates) was already growing when the mighty dinosaurs still walked on the planet. Fossils of the oldest known primate life-form have been analysed to discover they lived around 65.9 million years old. For reference, dinosaurs disappeared 66 million years ago. The fossils belong to genus Purgatorius which is recognised by most biologists to belong in group plesiadapiforms— oldest known primate.

These small mammals were quite different from any of the successors we recognise today. Elaborating on the importance of this discovery— the oldest dated occurrence of archaic primates — the author Stephen Chester said, “It adds to our understanding of how the earliest primates separated themselves from their competitors following the demise of the dinosaurs.”

Based on the teeth-fossil analysis, the team estimates that these animals (who are the ancestor of all known primates including monkeys, lemurs, and even humans) probably evolved by the Late Cretaceous— which means they lived alongside large dinosaurs. This discovery has been called an important step in increasing “our understanding of the environmental, biological, and social dependencies that ultimately led to the evolution of primates” according to Peter Tolias, dean of the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences.

Recently, another paper established that the cause of dinosaur extinction was definitely an asteroid impact 66 million years ago. This implies whatever took out the mighty dinos was survived by our ancestor and led to the eventual recovery of life on the planet.

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Chester has been involved in many groundbreaking primate discoveries. He co-authored a paper in 2015 which studied ankle bones of Purgatorius and established these tree-dwelling primate ancestors survived the asteroid impact long after dinosaurs were gone.

Before this new discovery, the oldest known primate fossil was from 55-million-years ago. It belonged to a lemur-like mammal and it was discovered in China in 2013. The animal was called Archicebus achilles. (Long after all the dinosaurs were gone).This study has been published in Royal Society Open Science.