Eocene primates of South America and the African origins of New World monkeys

  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 29 July 2015


The platyrrhine primates, or New World monkeys, are immigrant mammals whose fossil record comes from Tertiary and Quaternary sediments of South America and the Caribbean Greater Antilles1,2. The time and place of platyrrhine origins are some of the most controversial issues in primate palaeontology, although an African Palaeogene ancestry has been presumed by most primatologists3,4. Until now, the oldest fossil records of New World monkeys have come from Salla, Bolivia5,6, and date to approximately 26 million years ago7, or the Late Oligocene epoch. Here we report the discovery of new primates from the ?Late Eocene epoch of Amazonian Peru, which extends the fossil record of primates in South America back approximately 10 million years. The new specimens are important for understanding the origin and early evolution of modern platyrrhine primates because they bear little resemblance to any extinct or living South American primate, but they do bear striking resemblances to Eocene African anthropoids, and our phylogenetic analysis suggests a relationship with African taxa. The discovery of these new primates brings the first appearance datum of caviomorph rodents and primates in South America back into close correspondence, but raises new questions about the timing and means of arrival of these two mammalian groups.

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Figure 1: Stereo-pair scanning electron microscope (SEM) images of Perupithecus ucayaliensis, holotype.
Figure 2: SEM images of Perupithecus ucayaliensis, holotype.
Figure 3: Comparison SEM images.
Figure 4: Stereo-pair SEM image of unassigned primate right M3.

Change history

  • 22 April 2015

    The Zoobank accession was amended.


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INGEMMET, Lima, has been a partner and supporter of the field work in Amazonia led by K.E.C. and C. D. Frailey, especially H. Rivera-Mantilla and O. Palacios. M. Aldana and the late L. Romero-Pittman., both of INGEMMET, and C. D. Frailey provided assistance in the field expeditions. Funding in support of the Santa Rosa expeditions was provided by the National Geographic Society and J. G. Wigmore (1995 discovery expedition), and J. G. Wigmore, W. Rhodes, and R. Seaver (1998 collecting expedition). A. Stenger provided funding to support the picking of matrix by C. Suarez-Gomez. G.-A. Kung provided assistance in operating the scanning electron microscope at LACM, an instrument funded by National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant DBI-0216506; F. Tricárico assisted with scanning electron microscope operations at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales (MACN); and M. Tomeo assisted with development of figures. We thank K. C. Beard, Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum, University of Kansas, for providing epoxy casts of Talahpithecus, A. Kramarz for access to the palaeontology collections at MACN, D. Flores and L. Lucero for access to the mammalogy collections of the MACN, and CONICET (Argentina, PIP 0361).

Author information




All co-authors participated in the development of the manuscript. M.B., M.F.T., and K.E.C. wrote the manuscript and discussed all the different topics addressed in the paper. L.C. and N.N. performed the phylogenetic analysis. L.C. and F.J.G. performed the early analysis distinguishing the primate specimens from metatherians. K.E.C. and L.C. secured and edited the figures.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kenneth E. Campbell Jr.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

The data for Perupithecus ucayaliensis have been deposited in Zoobank under urn:lsid:zoobank.org:act:A8DBB511-D556-4052-A58F-A461C87BA755.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Location of the Santa Rosa locality, adapted from ref. 9.

Extended Data Figure 2 Outline drawing of the holotype of Perupithecus, with parts labelled.

For outline drawings of African anthropoids, see refs 16, 19.

Extended Data Figure 3 Phylogenetic positions of Perupithecus and the lower molar CPI-6487 with Cantius as outgroup and using Bremer support for the clades.

It is the result of the six most parsimonious trees of 955 steps, with a consistency index of 0.274 and a retention index of 0.574.

Extended Data Figure 4 Phylogenetic positions of Perupithecus and the lower molar CPI-6487 with Cantius as outgroup, ‘Omomyidae + Tarsiidae’ of ref. 18 constrained, and using Bremer support for the clades.

It is the result of the six most parsimonious trees of 958 steps, with a consistency index of 0.273 and a retention index of 0.572.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Data for Phylogenetic Analysis, and Supplementary References. The Supplementary Text describes the geology of the Santa Rosa locality and its age. The Supplementary Data for Phylogenetic Analysis details the methodology and taxa used in the analyses, the character list, the data matrix, and the synapomorphies. (PDF 689 kb)

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Bond, M., Tejedor, M., Campbell, K. et al. Eocene primates of South America and the African origins of New World monkeys. Nature 520, 538–541 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14120

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