Newly discovered fossils suggest human's earliest relatives first evolved in Asia, not Africa.
The new discovery suggests that the ancestors of all anthropoids (monkeys, apes, and humans) arose in Asia and made the long journey to the island continent of Africa almost 40 million years ago, Wired.com reported.
In 2005, Christopher Beard of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and an international team of researchers were sifting fossils near the village of Nyaungpinle in Myanmar when they came across a molar the size of a kernel of popcorn. The tooth, according to Wired, dated back 38 million years and belonged to a new species of ancient primate, which would have been the size of a small chipmunk.
"Many people have heard about the 'Out of Africa' story of human origins and human evolution. Our paper is the logical precursor to that, because we are showing how the anthropoid ancestors of humans made their way 'Into Africa' in the first place," said Beard.
It took Beard and his group nearly six years to find four teeth in Myanmar of what is now known as the Afrasia djijidae.
Discovery noted that the tooth size of Afrasia and Afrotarsius, its African cousin, indicates that both animals only weighed around 3.5 ounces. They likely fed mostly on insects and probably resembled small monkeys. The group suggests the Afrasia came first as its molars are slightly more primitive.
Beard and his group have yet to figure out how the tiny creature made its way from Asia to Africa.
Beard said one possibility is that the early Asian anthropoids rafted across the Tethys on a floating island of tree-covered land that may have eroded off large riverbanks in Asia during storms and floods.
"There have been a few examples where scientists have found animals living on mats of vegetation like this, out at sea, following a hurricane or large storm," Beard explained to Discovery.
Beard told the Post-Gazette that humans can thank these tiny creatures for our entire existence.
"If that migration event hadn't occurred. There is no reason to think you and I would be here talking about it. If the Asian monkey hadn't gotten to Africa, there is no reason to think that humans would have evolved. There is no reason to think it would have occurred in Asia."