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7 million-year-old fossilised monkey tooth discovered

Press Trust of India  |  Abu Dhabi 

A fossilised monkey specimen believed to be 6.5 to 8 million years old has been found here, an important discovery which could shed light on when and how Old World monkeys dispersed out of Africa and into Eurasia.

The discovery made on Shuwaihat Island by an international team of scientists from Hunter College New York could provide important clues into the never-fully-understood disappearance of the most thriving species of primates.

"These fossils indicate that, instead, Old World monkey dispersal could have taken place through the Arabian Peninsula even before the Messinian Crisis," Gilbert, lead author of the study was quoted as saying by the WAM agency.

The fossil find, a very small lower molar, was discovered in 2009. The team determined that the tooth belonged to the earliest known guenon, which are some of the most brightly coloured and distinctive monkeys in modern African forests.

"When we found it, we were doing back-breaking sieving work searching for remains of tiny fossil rodents," said Faysal Bibi, a study co-author and discoverer of the little molar.

"We spent many days over consecutive years sieving through tons of sand at this one site. It paid off," he added.

Old World monkeys are a diverse and widespread group, which includes African and Asian macaques, baboons, mangabeys, leaf monkeys and langurs.

They are considered to be the most thriving species of primates and although still found throughout Africa and Asia today, their dispersal out of Africa and into Eurasia has never been fully understood.

"We still know relatively little about ancient life in the Arabian Peninsula." "A rare find like this is a first for the entire region," said Bibi.

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First Published: Fri, July 04 2014. 17:07 IST