Letter | Published:

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

Nature volume 520, pages 538541 (23 April 2015) | Download Citation

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

This article has been updated


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.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Change history

  • 22 April 2015

    The Zoobank accession was amended.


  1. 1.

    & in The Primate Fossil Record (ed. ) 175–188 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002)

  2. 2.

    Sistemática, evolución y paleobiogeografía de los primates Platyrrhini. Rev. Mus. La Plata Sec. Zool. 20, 20–39 (2013)

  3. 3.

    Primate Adaptation and Evolution 3rd edn (Academic, 2013)

  4. 4.

    The Monkey’s Voyage (Basic Books, 2014)

  5. 5.

    Un primate de l’Oligocene inférieur sud-américain: Branisella boliviana gen. et sp. nov. C. R. Acad. Sci. D 69, 434–437 (1969)

  6. 6.

    & in The Primate Fossil Record (ed. ) 161–173 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002)

  7. 7.

    , , , & Revised age of the Salla beds, Bolivia, and its bearing on the age of the Deseadan South American land mammal ‘age’. J. Vertebr. Paleontol. 18, 189–199 (1998)

  8. 8.

    ed. The Paleogene mammalian fauna of Santa Rosa, Amazonian Peru. Nat. Hist. Mus. Los Angeles County Sci. Ser. 40, i–vi, 1–163 (2004)

  9. 9.

    , & The Paleogene Santa Rosa local fauna of Amazonian Perú: geographic and geologic setting. Nat. Hist. Mus. Los Angeles County Sci. Ser. 40, 3–14 (2004)

  10. 10.

    et al. Late Middle Eocene epoch of Libya yields earliest known radiation of African anthropoids. Nature 467, 1095–1098 (2010)

  11. 11.

    Description of two genera and species of Late Eocene Anthropoidea from Egypt. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 86, 9956–9960 (1989)

  12. 12.

    et al. The anatomy of Dolichocebus gaimanensis, a stem platyrrhine monkey from Argentina. J. Hum. Evol. 54, 323–382 (2008)

  13. 13.

    , , & in South American Primates: Testing New Theories in the Study of Primate Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects (eds , , , & ) Vol. 16, 69–113 (Springer, 2009)

  14. 14.

    Platyrrhines, PAUP, parallelism, and the long lineage hypothesis: a reply to Kay et al. (2008). J. Hum. Evol. 59, 214–217 (2010)

  15. 15.

    Biogeography in deep time – what do phylogenetics, geology, and paleoclimate tell us about early platyrrhine evolution? Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. B 82, 358–374 (2015)

  16. 16.

    Early primate evolution in Afro-Arabia. Evol. Anthropol. 21, 239–253 (2012)

  17. 17.

    et al. A fossil primate of uncertain affinities from the earliest Late Eocene of Egypt. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 9712–9717 (2010)

  18. 18.

    et al. Late Middle Eocene primate from Myanmar and the initial anthropoid colonization of Africa. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 10293–10297 (2012)

  19. 19.

    et al. A morphological intermediate between eosimiiform and simiiform primates from the Late Middle Eocene of Tunisia: macroevolutionary and paleobiogeographic implication of early anthropoids. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 154, 387–401 (2014)

  20. 20.

    Floating islands: a mode of long-distance dispersal for small and medium-sized terrestrial vertebrates. Divers. Distrib. 4, 201–216 (1998)

  21. 21.

    , & in South American Primates: Comparative Perspectives in the Study of Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects (eds , , , & ) Vol. 16, 55–68 (Springer, 2009)

  22. 22.

    & Double invasion of Tertiary island South America by ancestral New World monkeys? Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 60, 1–20 (1997)

  23. 23.

    , , & New fossil materials of the earliest New World monkey, Branisella boliviana, and the problem of platyrrhine origins. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 111, 263–281 (2000)

  24. 24.

    et al. Middle Eocene rodents from Peruvian Amazonia reveal the pattern and timing of caviomorph origins and biogeography. Proc. R. Soc. B 279, 1319–1326 (2011)

  25. 25.

    et al. Coming to America: multiple origins of New World geckos. J. Evol. Biol. 24, 231–244 (2011)

  26. 26.

    , & Out of Africa: fossils shed light on the origin of the hoatzin, an iconic Neotropic bird. Naturwissenschaften 98, 961–966 (2011)

Download references


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


  1. Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), División Paleontología Vertebrados, Museo de Ciencias Naturales de La Plata, B1900FWA La Plata, Argentina

    • Mariano Bond
    •  & Francisco Goin
  2. CONICET, Centro Nacional Patagónico, Boulevard Almirante Brown 2915, 9120 Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina

    • Marcelo F. Tejedor
    •  & Nelson Novo
  3. Facultad de Ciencias Naturales, Sede Trelew, Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia ‘San Juan Bosco’, 9100 Trelew, Chubut, Argentina

    • Marcelo F. Tejedor
  4. Vertebrate Zoology, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, California 90007, USA

    • Kenneth E. Campbell Jr
  5. CONICET, Sección Paleontología de Vertebrados, Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales ‘Bernardino Rivadavia’, Avenida Ángel Gallardo 470, C1405DJR Buenos Aires, Argentina

    • Laura Chornogubsky
  6. Universidad Nacional de Luján, Departamento de Ciencias Básicas. Ruta Nacional 5 and Avenida Constitución, 6700 Luján, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

    • Laura Chornogubsky


  1. Search for Mariano Bond in:

  2. Search for Marcelo F. Tejedor in:

  3. Search for Kenneth E. Campbell in:

  4. Search for Laura Chornogubsky in:

  5. Search for Nelson Novo in:

  6. Search for Francisco Goin in:


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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kenneth E. Campbell Jr.

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

Extended data

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    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.

About this article

Publication history






Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.