Now, after sifting through tonnes of alluvial sediment for six years, a team have made a remarkable new find which challenges this long-held view of primate evolution. Led by Chris Beard, a palaeontologist from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the team excavating at the Eocene Pondaung formation near Nyaungpinle in central Myanmar, have recovered fragmentary remains of a creature, closely related to primates, which existed on the other side of the world in Northern Africa.
|The Pondaung formation in Myanmar|
Neil Shubin, the famous early tetrapod palaeontologist described mammal palaeontology as 'dentistry 101.' The same team had discovered teeth from another developmental primate, Ganlea megacanina, at the same formation. The area itself is well known for remains of the earliest advanced primates (properly called anthropoids) in South East Asia, but this creature had something rather different.
|The 37 million year old teeth of Afrasia djijidae|
From Darwinius to Afrotarsius, there is a 10 million year gap. It was previously thought that Africa's primate fossil record was simply poor. This new discovery suggests that it simply does not exist, yet started with Afrotarsius which evolved from the first Asian anthropoids. The discovery may have implications which extend beyond the evolution of the higher primates and humans. It was once thought that the American primates evolved from African ancestors, carried across the Atlantic ocean on chunks of mangrove swamp which broke away from the coast during intense storms.
While fossils of flightless avians of a similar species, on both continents within the same date period, backed up this theory, it was still a long shot. If, in fact, the American primates evolved from early Asian anthropoids, this would rule out the need for a long distance crossing of a dangerous ocean. 'Afrasia is a game-changer because for the first time it signals when our distant ancestors initially colonized Africa. If this ancient migration had never taken place, we wouldn't be here talking about it.'