New Asian early anthropoid found in Thailand coal mine

October 2, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
Krabia minuta fossil. Credit: Yaowalak Chaimanee

( —A newly discovered type of anthropoid (precursor to monkeys, apes and humans) has been discovered in a coal mine in Thailand. A team of French anthropologists from Université de Poitiers has been studying the fossil remains (newly named Krabia minuta) and have published a paper describing their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Those who study human evolution have until recently believed that some types of animals arose in Africa and then evolved to become monkeys, and humans. The new thinking is that the precursors to all three developed first in Asia, not Africa, then somehow made their way across an ancient sea to develop into the apes, monkey's and people we see today. This new find in Thailand bolsters that theory, while also suggesting that some precursors were not precursors at all, but were instead relatives of precursors that either evolved into something else, or went extinct. The tiny primate (estimated to weigh just half a pound when alive) was found in a coal mine and consisted of a single jawbone. The research team places the fossil to the Late Eocene, approximately 33-35 million years ago. Surprisingly, the teeth on the bone were unlike those of other found in Asia, and suggest K. minuta ate fruit and gum, rather than the nuts and insects associated with other anthropoids. This, the researchers suggest, means that the little creature was likely part of group of anthropoids called amphipithecids, that lived throughout Southeast Asia and who all eventually went extinct.

Fossil evidence in China shows anthropoids living in that area as early as 45 million years ago—the earliest fossils in Africa date back to just 38 million years ago, suggesting that the first anthropoids were in Asia, not Africa. How they could have made their way across the Tethys Sea that separated Asia from Africa at the time is still a mystery. Some suggest it may have been the result of a natural event, such as a monsoon that pushed natural barges carrying animals across the sea—which was larger than the Mediterranean is today.

Explore further: More evidence for Asia, not Africa, as the source of earliest anthropoid primates

More information: A new Late Eocene primate from the Krabi Basin (Thailand) and the diversity of Palaeogene anthropoids in southeast Asia, Published 2 October 2013 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2268

According to the most recent discoveries from the Middle Eocene of Myanmar and China, anthropoid primates originated in Asia rather than in Africa, as was previously considered. But the Asian Palaeogene anthropoid community remains poorly known and inadequately sampled, being represented only from China, Myanmar, Pakistan and Thailand. Asian Eocene anthropoids can be divided into two distinct groups, the stem group eosimiiforms and the possible crown group amphipithecids, but the phylogenetic relationships between these two groups are not well understood. Therefore, it is critical to understand their evolutionary history and relationships by finding additional fossil taxa. Here, we describe a new small-sized fossil anthropoid primate from the Late Eocene Krabi locality in Thailand, Krabia minuta, which shares several derived characters with the amphipithecids. It displays several unique dental characters, such as extreme bunodonty and reduced trigon surface area, that have never been observed in other Eocene Asian anthropoids. These features indicate that morphological adaptations were more diversified among amphipithecids than was previously expected, and raises the problem of the phylogenetic relations between the crown anthropoids and their stem group eosimiiforms, on one side, and the modern anthropoids, on the other side.

Related Stories

Researchers discover rare fossil ape cranium in China

September 6, 2013

A team of researchers has discovered the cranium of a fossil ape from Shuitangba, a Miocene site in Yunnan Province, China. The juvenile cranium of the fossil ape Lufengpithecus is significant, according to team member Nina ...

Recommended for you

133 million-year-old dinosaur brain fossil found in England

October 28, 2016

Soft tissues such as hearts and muscles are very rarely preserved in the fossil record. For that reason, nearly all study of dinosaur soft tissue has to be reconstructed from fossil bones. However, researchers in the United ...

Science: Public interest high, literacy stable

October 28, 2016

While public interest in science continues to grow, the level of U.S. scientific literacy remains largely unchanged, according to a survey by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Experts uncover hidden layers of Jesus' tomb site

October 27, 2016

In the innermost chamber of the site said to be the tomb of Jesus, a restoration team has peeled away a marble layer for the first time in centuries in an effort to reach what it believes is the original rock surface where ...

Important ancient papyrus seized from looters in Israel

October 27, 2016

(—Eitan Klein, a representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority, has announced that an important papyrus document dated to 2,700 years ago has been seized from a group of Palestinian looters who reportedly ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.