This is Archicebus achilles, or “beginning long-tailed monkey.” One of the very earliest of our primate ancestors, she weighed about an ounce, could fit in the palm of your hand, and lived in the trees when most of the Earth was a tropical paradise about 55 million years ago.
Archie was found as an almost perfect fossil by by a farmer in China about 10 years ago, but only now are the scientists who have been studying her ready to introduce her to her fellow primates – us.
The very delicate fossil had to be sent to France to be examined by a special x-ray machine. “When you scan it with synchrotron light, you can virtually extract the bones without touching them,” said Dr. Paul Tafforeau. “This gives you access to the general anatomy and we can achieve very high resolution.”
When Archie appeared on the scene, 55 million years ago, the dinosaur age had only recently (well, “recently” in geological time) come to an end, and the mammals were just beginning their ascent.
Among the primates, three main lines began to emerge. One of them led to those supercute lemurs of Madagascar and also the lorises.
Another line led to the tarsiers of Southeast Asia.
And a third line led to monkeys, apes and humans.
Archicebus achilles is most closely related to the tarsiers.
The study is published in the journal Nature, along with this article.