A garbage dump in Catalonia, Spain, has just yielded an eleven-million-year-old new primate, according to the science news service SINC.
Named Pliopithecus canmatensis, after the site (Can Mata in the VallÃ¨s-PenedÃ¨s basin), the primate belonged to an extinct family of Old World monkeys, Catarrhini, which dispersed from Africa to Eurasia.
The scientists were able to ID the monkey from fragments of its jaw and molars.
The new species, according to the scientists, sheds light on the evolution of the superfamily Pliopithecoidea, primates that include animals that diverged before the separation of the two current superfamilies: the cercopithecoids (Old World monkeys) and the hominids (anthromorphs and humans). It thrived in Eurasia during the Early and Late Miocene, or between 23.5 and 5.3 million years ago.
“Based on the anatomical, palaeobiographical and biostratigraphic information available, the most probable evolutionary scenario for this group is that the Pliopithecoidea were the first Catarrhini to disperse from Africa to Eurasia, where they experienced an evolutionary radiation in a continent initially deserted of other anthropoids (apes),” David Alba, the project leader and a researcher at the Catalan Institute for Palaeontology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), told SINC.
According to the new study, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the subfamily to which this particular species belonged originated from an ancestor called the dionsisopithecine in Asia. This ancestor led to animals that later moved into Europe around 15 million years ago.
Fifteen to eleven million years is somewhat a drop in the time bucket for primate evolution, however. One of the world’s oldest primate-like animals was Plesiadapis, which lived 58 to 55 million years ago. So primate history, our history, goes back a very long time.