A NEW species of monkey that lived in Africa 22 million years ago is a “missing link” in primate evolution, scientists have said.
It was only identified through its teeth and fills a six million year gap in the fossil record.
The discovery of an extinct monkey during this era is so rare it was first mistaken for a pig.
Professor Ellen Miller, of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, explained: “These teeth are so primitive when we first showed them to other scientists, they told us, ‘Oh no, that isn’t a monkey. It’s a pig.
“But because of other dental features, we are able to convince them that yes, it is in fact a monkey.”
“These teeth are so primitive when we first showed them to other scientists, they told us, ‘Oh no, that isn’t a monkey. It’s a pig”
Professor Ellen Miller
The newly identified monkey’s teeth are more primitive than geologically younger fossils.
This suggests it lived the “good life”, taking advantage of the vast variety of fruits, seeds and nuts growing in the rich forest.
They lack what the researchers referred to a pair of molar crests called “lophs” earning its name Alophia – meaning “without lophs.”
It sheds fresh light on the mystery of how prehistoric monkeys expanded their range across the Old World.
The teeth of Alophia metios were unearthed in rocks exposed in the eroded desert badlands of north-western Kenya near Lake Turkana.
Crucially they have been dated exactly between 19 and 25 million year-old fossilised monkey teeth found in Uganda and Tanzania, respectively.
The latter is believed to have belonged to the world’s first monkey.
The study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also suggests the course of their evolution was changed by their diet.
Corresponding author Prof John Kappelman, of The University of Texas at Austin, said: “For a group as highly successful as the monkeys of Africa and Asia, it would seem scientists would have already figured out their evolutionary history.
“Although the isolated tooth from Tanzania is important for documenting the earliest occurrence of monkeys, the next 6 million years of the group’s existence are one big blank.
“This new monkey importantly reveals what happened during the group’s later evolution.”