Washington: A team of researchers have discovered the world's oldest known fossil primate skeleton representing a previously unknown genus and species named Archicebus achilles. The fossil was unearthed from an ancient lake bed in central China's Hubei Province, near the course of the modern Yangtze River.

In addition to being the oldest known example of an early primate skeleton, the new fossil is crucial for illuminating a pivotal event in primate and human evolution-the evolutionary divergence between the lineage leading to modern monkeys, apes and humans (collectively known as anthropoids) on the one hand and that leading to living tarsiers on the other.

The international team of scientists who studied the skeleton of Archicebus was led by Dr. Xijun Ni of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

The new fossil takes its name from the Greek arche (meaning beginning or first; the same root as archaeology) and the Greek kebos (meaning long-tailed monkey). The species name achilles (derived from the mythological Greek warrior achilles) highlights the new fossil's unusual ankle anatomy.

The fossil was recovered from sedimentary rock strata that were deposited in the ancient lake roughly 55 million years ago, during the early part of the Eocene epoch. This was an interval of global "greenhouse" conditions, when much of the world was shrouded in tropical rainforests and palm trees grew as far north as Alaska.


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