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Late middle Eocene epoch of Libya yields earliest known radiation of African anthropoids

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Abstract

Reconstructing the early evolutionary history of anthropoid primates is hindered by a lack of consensus on both the timing and biogeography of anthropoid origins1,2,3. Some prefer an ancient (Cretaceous) origin for anthropoids in Africa or some other Gondwanan landmass4, whereas others advocate a more recent (early Cenozoic) origin for anthropoids in Asia1,2,5, with subsequent dispersal of one or more early anthropoid taxa to Africa. The oldest undoubted African anthropoid primates described so far are three species of the parapithecid Biretia from the late middle Eocene Bir El Ater locality of Algeria6 and the late Eocene BQ-2 site in the Fayum region of northern Egypt7. Here we report the discovery of the oldest known diverse assemblage of African anthropoids from the late middle Eocene Dur At-Talah escarpment in central Libya. The primate assemblage from Dur At-Talah includes diminutive species pertaining to three higher-level anthropoid clades (Afrotarsiidae, Parapithecidae and Oligopithecidae) as well as a small species of the early strepsirhine primate Karanisia. The high taxonomic diversity of anthropoids at Dur At-Talah indicates either a much longer interval of anthropoid evolution in Africa than is currently documented in the fossil record or the nearly synchronous colonization of Africa by multiple anthropoid clades at some time during the middle Eocene epoch.

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Figure 1: Stratigraphy and correlation of the Dur At-Talah section.
Figure 2: Scanning electron microscope images of fossil primate teeth from Dur At-Talah.

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Acknowledgements

This work has been completed under the framework of a cooperative programme between the University of Poitiers and Al Fateh University. Logistic and travel arrangements were provided by Al Fateh University. Financial support came from the University of Poitiers, from the CNRS ‘Eclipse2’ program and the ANR-05-BLAN-0235 and ANR-09-BLAN-0238-02-EVAH programs, from the Groupe ‘TOTAL’ and from a National Science Foundation grant to K.C.B. Scanning electron microscope images were produced by M. Bordes. Figures were designed by S. Riffaut and M. Klingler.

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Contributions

M.Br., M.Sa., O.H. and J.-J.J. designed and organized the project. J.-J.J., Y.C., X.V., M.Be., M.S., A.A.B., B.M. and L.M. collected palaeontological data. M.Be., P.C., M.Sch, O.Hl, P.D. and E.M. collected geological and palaeomagnetic data. J.-J.J., Y.C. and K.C.B. analysed the data. J.-J.J. and K.C.B. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jean-Jacques Jaeger.

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Jaeger, JJ., Beard, K., Chaimanee, Y. et al. Late middle Eocene epoch of Libya yields earliest known radiation of African anthropoids. Nature 467, 1095–1098 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09425

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