In the words of Robert D. Martin, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Chicago's Field Museum, "It was once thought that primates originated in North America because that's where the earliest fossils were found initially; but we should be more open-minded. We still do not know the area of origin of the primate lineage that eventually led to humans, and this new find firmly brings Asia into the picture."
Xijun Ni and colleagues describe the fossil as Teilhardina asiatica, a new species of a genus first recognized from Belgium, in the Jan. 1, 2004, issue of Nature. At 28 grams, T. asiatica is smaller than any modern primate, and its size and sharp tooth cusps indicate that it was an insect-eater.
But a "News & Views" commentary in the same issue of Nature by Dr. Martin disagrees with part of the authors' interpretation of their new find.
Based on T. asiatica's small eye sockets relative to skull length, Ni and colleagues maintain that the small predator was diurnal (active during the day). Dr. Martin, on the other hand, says there is no compelling evidence from the fossil to shake the traditional belief that the common ancestor of primates, and early representatives such as members of the genus Teilhardina, were nocturnal (active at night).
"I disagree with the authors on both statistical and biological grounds," Dr. Martin says. "They excluded significant data in their analysis, and they did not adequately account for certain biological features, including the very large opening on the snout for the nerve connecting with the whiskers, which are best developed in nocturnal m
Contact: Greg Borzo