New Fossil Ape Discovered in India Fills Major Gaps in the Primate Fossil Record

Ramnagar India

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Field website in Ramnagar, India. Credit: Christopher Gilbert

The 13-million-year-old gibbon forefather fills significant spaces in the primate fossil record.

A 13-million-year-old fossil uncovered in northern India originates from a recently found ape, the earliest recognized forefather of the modern-day gibbon. The discovery by Christopher C. Gilbert, Hunter College, fills a significant space in the ape fossil record and offers essential brand-new proof about when the forefathers these days’s gibbon moved to Asia from Africa.

The findings have actually been released in the short article “New Middle Miocene ape (primates: Hylobatidae) from Ramnagar, India fills major gaps in the hominoid fossil record” in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The fossil, a total lower molar, comes from a formerly unidentified genus and types (Kapi ramnagarensis) and represents the very first brand-new fossil ape types found at the well-known fossil website of Ramnagar, India, in almost a century.

Gibbon Migration Map

Map highlighting the area of Kapi (black star) relative to modern-day (dark green) and historic (light green) populations of lower apes and the approximate circulation of early fossil apes in East Africa (blue triangles). Green triangles mark the area of formerly found fossil gibbons. The brand-new fossil is countless years older than any formerly understood fossil gibbon and highlights their migration from Africa to Asia. Credit: Illustration by Luci Betti-Nash

Gilbert’s discover was serendipitous. Gilbert and staff member Chris Campisano, Biren Patel, Rajeev Patnaik, and Premjit Singh were climbing up a little hill in a location where a fossil primate jaw had actually been discovered the year prior to. While stopping briefly for a brief rest, Gilbert found something glossy in a little stack of dirt on the ground, so he dug it out and rapidly understood he’d discovered something unique.

“We knew immediately it was a primate tooth, but it did not look like the tooth of any of the primates previously found in the area,” he stated. “From the shape and size of the molar, our initial guess was that it might be from a gibbon ancestor, but that seemed too good to be true, given that the fossil record of lesser apes is virtually nonexistent. There are other primate species known during that time, and no gibbon fossils have previously been found anywhere near Ramnagar. So we knew we would have to do our homework to figure out exactly what this little fossil was.”

Since the fossil’s discovery in 2015, years of research study, analysis, and contrast were carried out to validate that the tooth comes from a brand-new types, in addition to to precisely identify its location in the ape ancestral tree. The molar was photographed and CT-scanned, and relative samples of living and extinct ape teeth were analyzed to highlight essential resemblances and distinctions in oral anatomy.

Ramnagar Research Team

The Ramnagar research study group, (from left) N. P. Singh, R. Patnaik, C. Gilbert, B. Patel, and C. Campisano. Credit: Christopher Gilbert

“What we found was quite compelling and undeniably pointed to the close affinities of the 13-million-year-old tooth with gibbons,” stated Alejandra Ortiz, who becomes part of the research study group. “Even if, for now, we only have one tooth, and thus, we need to be cautious, this is a unique discovery. It pushes back the oldest known fossil record of gibbons by at least five million years, providing a much-needed glimpse into the early stages of their evolutionary history.”

In addition to figuring out that the brand-new ape represents the earliest recognized fossil gibbon, the age of the fossil, around 13 million years of ages, is synchronous with widely known primate fossils, offering proof that the migration of primates, consisting of orangutan forefathers, and lower apes from Africa to Asia occurred around the exact same time and through the exact same locations.

“I found the biogeographic component to be really interesting,” stated Chris Campisano. “Today, gibbons and orangutans can both be found in Sumatra and Borneo in Southeast Asia, and the oldest fossil apes are from Africa. Knowing that gibbon and orangutan ancestors existed in the same spot together in northern India 13 million years ago, and may have a similar migration history across Asia, is pretty cool.”


Reference: “New Middle Miocene ape (primates: Hylobatidae) from Ramnagar, India fills major gaps in the hominoid fossil record” 8 September 2020, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The research study group prepares to continue research study at Ramnagar, having just recently got a grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their continuous look for ape fossils.

Article coauthors consist of Chris Gilbert Anthropology, Hunter College, and the Graduate Center (both of the City University of New York); Alejandra Ortiz, New York University and the Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University; Kelsey D. Pugh, American Museum of Natural History; Christopher J. Campisano, Institute of Human Origins and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University; Biren A. Patel, Keck School of Medicine and the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California; Ningthoujam Premjit Singh, Department of Geology, Panjab University; John G. Fleagle, Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University; and Rajeev Patnaik, Department of Geology, Panjab University.

This research study at Ramnagar was moneyed by the Leakey Foundation, the PSC-CUNY professors award program, Hunter College, the AAPA expert advancement program, the University of Southern California, the Institute of Human Origins (Arizona State University), and the National Science Foundation. Indian coworkers are more supported by the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences and Science and Engineering Research Board.

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