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The oldest known primate skeleton and early haplorhine evolution



Reconstructing the earliest phases of primate evolution has been impeded by gaps in the fossil record, so that disagreements persist regarding the palaeobiology and phylogenetic relationships of the earliest primates. Here we report the discovery of a nearly complete and partly articulated skeleton of a primitive haplorhine primate from the early Eocene of China, about 55 million years ago, the oldest fossil primate of this quality ever recovered. Coupled with detailed morphological examination using propagation phase contrast X-ray synchrotron microtomography, our phylogenetic analysis based on total available evidence indicates that this fossil is the most basal known member of the tarsiiform clade. In addition to providing further support for an early dichotomy between the strepsirrhine and haplorhine clades, this new primate further constrains the age of divergence between tarsiiforms and anthropoids. It also strengthens the hypothesis that the earliest primates were probably diurnal, arboreal and primarily insectivorous mammals the size of modern pygmy mouse lemurs.

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Figure 1: Three-dimensional reconstruction of the type specimen (IVPP V18618) of Archicebus achilles.
Figure 2: The head region of Archicebus achilles.
Figure 3: The foot region of Archicebus achilles.
Figure 4: Summary phylogeny of 157 mammals.

Accession codes

Data deposits

ZooBank accessions: (Archicebidae fam. nov.); 163DE8EB-D691-49E4-A211-8ECF117756BD (Archicebus gen. nov.); (Archicebus achilles sp. nov.).


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This project has been supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS, XDB03020501), the National Basic Research Program of China (2012CB821904), the CAS 100-talent Program, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (40672009, 40872032), the US National Science Foundation (BCS 0820602), the ESRF (proposal ec347), and the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). We are grateful to C. Li, Y. Wang, E. Delson, A. L. Rosenberger, E. Seiffert, M. T. Silcox and J. I. Bloch for helpful discussions. We thank C. Li and Q. Li for their assistance in the field, and C. Nemoz, T. Brochard and all the ID17 beamline team for their help during the synchrotron experiment. We thank the staff of the following museums for access to specimens: AMNH, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh; Royal Belgium Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels.

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Authors and Affiliations



X.N. designed the study, analysed the data and wrote the paper. K.C.B., J.M., D.L.G. and M.D. contributed extensively and equally to the work presented in this paper. P.T. performed synchrotron microtomography experiments and edited the manuscript. J.J.F. collected part of the data and edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Xijun Ni.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ni, X., Gebo, D., Dagosto, M. et al. The oldest known primate skeleton and early haplorhine evolution. Nature 498, 60–64 (2013).

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