Monkey fossil from 7million years ago shows how species ‘tackled climate change’

Scientists believe they have found some of the oldest monkey fossils ever discovered out of Africa.

The "significant" finding in China suggests a type of monkey called Mesopithecus pentelicus adapted to endure climate change.

Researchers also claim it reveals how the species' digestive system allowed it to travel huge distances.

Three fossils were uncovered from a lignite mine in China’s Yunan Province.

Nina G. Jablonski, Professor of Anthropology at Penn State, said: “It is close to or actually the ancestor of many of the living monkeys of East Asia."

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One of the fossils found is thought to be a monkey's lower jaw.

Another is a part of the thigh bone but the most important find is a heel bone.

Researchers said the heel reveals how the monkey would have moved and travelled great continental distances.

Mrs Jablonski said: “The significance of the calcaneus is that it reveals the monkey was well adapted for moving nimbly and powerfully both on the ground and in the trees.

“This locomotor versatility no doubt contributed to the success of the species in dispersing across woodland corridors from Europe to Asia.”

She added: “This is an interesting case in primate evolution because it testifies to the value of versatility and adaptability in diverse and changing environments.”

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The report adds the leg and jawbone were probably from one individual monkey – a female.

Studies of the monkeys’ teeth indicate a diet of plants, fruits and flowers. This is in contrast to the mostly fruit-based diets of apes.

Although Mesopithecus pentelicus is now extinct, the species was able to travel great distances, with some found in Greece.

The species is thought to have existed between five million and seven million years ago, and is an example of an "Old World monkey".

Part of the species’ survivability could be because of the monkeys’ ability to digest things such mature leaves and seeds.

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They also would not have had to worry very much about water – their digestive process enabled them to get enough water from food without having to also drink it.

Mrs Jablonski said: “These monkeys are the same as those found in Greece during the same time period, suggesting they spread out from a centre somewhere in central Europe and they did it fairly quickly.

“That is impressive when you think of how long it takes for an animal to disperse tens of thousands of kilometres through forest and woodlands.”

The finding was reported by Penn State University, which also funded the research alongside the National Science Foundation and Bryn Mawr.

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Also involved in research were Dr. Dionisios Youlatos from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and Dr. Xueping Ji from the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Yunnan University.

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