Fossil find adds three million years to oldest known old-world monkey

March 19, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
Skeleton of Paracolobus chemeroni, a fossil monkey. Paracolobus is an extinct genus of primate in the Colobini tribe, which also contains the living colobus monkeys. It lived in eastern Africa in the early to late Pliocene. This picture is not from the current PNAS research. Credit: American Museum of Natural History

( —Researchers from the United States have identified fossilized remains found in Kenya seven years ago, as those belonging to an old-world monkey (Cercopithecidae) and relative of modern proboscis and colobus monkeys—they date back to a time 3 million years before any other previous find of its kind. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes the fossils as two teeth—a molar and a premolar—enough to identify its owner as a member of a group of old-world monkeys of the Cercopithecoidea superfamily.

Old-world monkeys are a group of that include monkeys that evolved in Africa and Asia (as opposed to new-world monkeys that evolved in the Americas, etc.) One of their distinguishing features is that unlike new-world monkeys, their tails are not prehensile. They are believed to have emerged as a group during the , a period that lasted from 5 to 23 million years ago. The newly identified fossils have been found to be approximately 12.5 million years old and were found in 2006 at a site in Tugen Hills, Kenya. The researchers believe that at the time the monkey was alive, the place where it lived was grassland.

The researchers have identified the as coming from one or two colobine monkeys—their modern counterparts include (known for their large oddly shaped nose) and the colobus, which actually looks similar to a skunk. They believe the monkey weighed about ten pounds and based on the look of the teeth, ate mostly seeds and perhaps unripe fruit, rather than leaves—the main component of the diet of modern similar monkeys. This suggests, they say, that the evolution of a more advanced gut was underway that would lead to an ability to digest leaves. It also offers clues that might hint at the competition that likely existed between the colobine monkeys and other archaic primates, which subsequently resulted in some of those other species going extinct.

The identification of the fossils is helping to answer some of the questions scientists have about the origin of old-world monkeys and how they diversified as so few of their fossilized remains have been found.

Explore further: Hong Kong hails success in monkey birth control

More information: Early cercopithecid monkeys from the Tugen Hills, Kenya, PNAS, Published online before print March 18, 2013, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1213691110

The modern Old World Monkeys (Superfamily Cercopithecoidea, Family Cercopithecidae) can be traced back into the late Miocene, but their origin and subsequent diversification is obscured by the scarcity of terrestrial fossil sites in Africa between 15 and 6 Ma. Here, we document the presence of cercopithecids at 12.5 Ma in the Tugen Hills of Kenya. These fossils add 3 My to the known antiquity of crown Cercopithecidae. The two specimens represent one or possibly two species of early colobine, and their morphology suggests that they were less folivorous than their modern relatives.

Related Stories

Inner ear may hold key to ancient primate behavior

June 13, 2012

CT scans of fossilized primate skulls or skull fragments from both the Old and New Worlds may shed light on how these extinct animals moved, especially for those species without any known remains, according to an international ...

Brits rescue 88 research monkeys

January 30, 2008

Dozens of research monkeys used by a Chilean medical laboratory were sent to England following threats by an animal rights group.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey sighting in Vietnam

May 21, 2012

As one of the most endangered primate species in the world, sightings of the elusive Tonkin snub-nosed monkey are rare. It’s no wonder a recent sighting of a group in Vietnam has proved cause for celebration.

Recommended for you

New paper answers causation conundrum

November 17, 2017

In a new paper published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, SFI Professor Jessica Flack offers a practical answer to one of the most significant, and most confused questions in evolutionary ...

Chance discovery of forgotten 1960s 'preprint' experiment

November 16, 2017

For years, scientists have complained that it can take months or even years for a scientific discovery to be published, because of the slowness of peer review. To cut through this problem, researchers in physics and mathematics ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Mar 19, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Mar 19, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Mar 19, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
4.1 / 5 (18) Mar 19, 2013
What's with the picture at the top showing legs? The article mentions only 2 teeth were found.

This picture is not from the current PNAS research. Credit: American Museum of Natural History

From the above two quotes we can conclude that verkle lacks the basic reading skills required to form valid opinions.
4.1 / 5 (17) Mar 19, 2013
If evolution was real not only would you find fossilized remains of current species, but the majority would be species that are intermediates of the species we have today. Virtually no such fossils have been found.

From this comment we can determine that verkle lacks the necessary understanding of fossil formation required to critique evolution. His opinion is thus irrelevant.
3.9 / 5 (15) Mar 19, 2013
And when the great flood of Noah covered the earth (which I believe accounts for most of the fossils we see today)

We now have conclusive evidence that verkle has no understanding of fossil formation, or any of the sciences relating to its understanding. His intentional ignorance reduces his posts to vandalism.
Mar 19, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Mar 19, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
5 / 5 (4) Mar 19, 2013
Hi nowhere, I'm glad the editor put in that statement to make it clearer. But despite the statement, it is still misleading to put an unrelated picture of another creature at the top of this article. It is not good news reporting.

4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 19, 2013
Yes that's not right, you assume the pic is from the story, but numerous times it hasn't been on this site!
If people who don't believe in evolution actually watched scientific programs and open their minds, you would see that evidence is everywhere. Examples like snakes still having tiny remnants of what used to be their legs and chickens that still have the gene that would make them have teeth as they did back in the dinosaur days (which has been turned on and proven).
There are loads of species with fossils from a huge range of dates that show their entire path of evolution.
The BBC show Wonders of Life does a great job explaining a lot of things if anyone wants more detail.
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 19, 2013

nowhere--how to you propose that fossils form? Have you ever seen animals decay? In nearly 100% of cases, what happens to organisms after they die? They disappear. Go experiment.

Only a fast moving event like a flood is likely to create fossils.

Like a flood but not limited to one. Otherwise yes. This, coupled with fast speciation events, is why your second post regarding intermediate fossils is incorrect.
Mar 19, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
5 / 5 (5) Mar 19, 2013
There are loads of species with fossils from a huge range of dates that show their entire path of evolution.

What a lie! Give me one example out of your loads of examples.

Read the following link constructed from the fossil record:


4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 19, 2013
Hey Verkle again. Why are you writing in a science site if you don't believe in it.
No one here is interested in your creationist opinions.
Even less the europeans readers. Here in Europe no one believes in your bullshit.
Creationism is common only to (some) US people and the muslims :)
5 / 5 (2) Mar 19, 2013
I found an ammonite today, my first time fossil hunting, well chuffed, they look great up close in the 'flesh'!
5 / 5 (5) Mar 19, 2013
It is my utmost hope that dear Verkle is simply trolling and that nobody could actually be so simple. The material you require that shows evidence for all those fossils you don't believe exist is readily available. Search this site or search for it on Google.

The 'great flood' you believe in is supposed to have been one event that lasted forty days and forty nights. How does that explain the millions of years' difference between some fossil findings? Please show sufficient proof or keep your fingers to yourself and stop accusing others of lying.

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.