Scientists discover the earliest gibbon fossils in East Asia

(ORDO NEWS) — Paleontologists have discovered fossils of a small narrow-nosed monkey between 7 and 8 million years old in southwest China’s Yunnan province.

Named Yuanmoupithecus xiaoyuan, the species turned out to be the earliest known gibbon. The results of the research work, jointly prepared by Chinese scientists and their international colleagues, were published in the journal Human Evolution.

There are 20 species of Hylobatidae, mostly found in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia. Fossils of Hylobatidae are very rare and are mostly found in caves in southern China and Southeast Asia.

Project leader Ji Xueping said that more than 30 years ago, paleontologists discovered tooth fossils of Yuanmoupithecus xiaoyuan, which were classified as small narrow-nosed monkeys.

Ji, who is also a researcher at the Kunming Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, later discovered a partial fossil of the lower face of a juvenile during fieldwork and tentatively determined that the specimen belonged to the Hylobatidae by comparing it to the skull of living gibbons.

“While specimens of Yuanmoupithecus xiaoyuan are still relatively rare, the discovery of key materials has allowed us to definitively confirm that this species is the most likely direct ancestor of living gibbons,” Ji said.

The researchers believe that the discovery of this species filled a gap in the evolutionary history of the small narrow-nosed monkey in East Asia.

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