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Ancestral Handful: Tiny skull puts Asia at root of primate tree

Researchers have unearthed the partial skull of the oldest known primate, a teeny creature that lived in south-central China 55 million years ago.

The discovery extends the geographic reach of the ancient genus Teilhardina into Asia, say Xijun Ni of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his coworkers. Until now, all Teilhardina fossils had been teeth and jaw fragments from North America and Europe.

Teilhardina belonged to the tarsierlike omomyids that lived 55 to 36 million years ago. They were precursors of today's tarsiers, monkeys, apes, and people.

The newly found fossil derived from an animal that was smaller than any living primate. Weighing about 1 ounce, it would have fit in the palm of a person's hand. The creature's size and sharp teeth peg it as an insect eater, the scientists report in the Jan. 1 Nature.

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