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Asian primates hit hard by ancient climate change

Fossil finds may explain why humans evolved in Africa, not Asia

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2:00pm, May 5, 2016
Primate jaw

ASIAN SURVIVOR  This lower left jaw comes from one of six new fossil primate species unearthed in southern China. The fossils’ discoverers suspect dropping temperatures and declining rainfall around 34 million years ago changed the course of primate evolution in Asia.

Fossil discoveries in southern China point to an evolutionary crossroads around 34 million years ago that resulted in humans evolving in Africa rather than Asia, scientists say.

A sharply cooler and drier climate at that time, combined with upheavals of landmasses that forged the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, destroyed many tropical forests in Asia. That sent surviving primates scurrying south, say paleontologist Xijun Ni of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his colleagues. New Chinese finds provide the first fossil evidence that the forerunners of monkeys, apes and humans, also known as anthropoids, were then largely replaced in Asia by creatures related to modern lemurs, lorises and tarsiers, the researchers conclude in the May 6 Science.

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