The first Primate was recognised recently from central China and announced this month in Nature magazine. The fossil is 55 million years old and comprises an almost complete skeleton with familiar monkey-like feet and a body only 10cm long. It has been compared to the pygmy mouse lemur which still lives in the forests of Madagascar where they eat insects.
It was thought that Primates originated in Africa but this specimen from China is 8 million years older. Africa was an island then and connected to Asia only 16 million years ago. This suggests that some of the early species must have crossed the sea between 55 and 47 millions years ago to get from China to Africa.
But by then primates were diversifying. 35 millions years ago the familiar capuchin monkeys became a distinct and separate group.
Now, archaeologists tell us these monkeys as well as chimpanzees used stones to crack nuts. It remains to be seen when the practice began, but it was surely many millions of years ago. Even modern humans use similar tools in Irian Jaya, Indonesia.
Unaware of these early developments, the artist Spencer Tunick expresses other fears about the abuse our species gives to the natural environment. He uses naked humans for installations at the most vulnerable environments, glaciers that are melting and seascapes whose level is rising.
He wants “viewers to feel the vulnerability of their existence”
Melting glaciers cause sea level to rise. Within such a relatively short length of time, Primate evolution is confronted with a new kind of catastrophe. Is it the end of the line that began 55 million years ago?