Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Earliest Primates Were From North America

The unusual tooth sockets in UF specimen 333700 upended the hypothesis that Teilhardina brandti was a younger species in the genus. The sockets closely resemble those in Teilhardina asiatica, thought to be the most primitive Teilhardina species.

Credit: Florida Museum image by Paul Morse
Oldest-known ancestor of modern primates may have come from North America, not Asia – #FloridaMuseumScience

The earliest known primate may have come from North America!

But! Creationists should calm down! This is not another opportunity for a 'Nebraska Man'-style hoax*. It is from a time when Eurasia and North America were part of the same landmass about 56 million years ago. At that time, Earth was warm enough for palm trees to grow around the Arctic Circle.

This discovery by scientists from Florida University suggests the earliest known example of basal primates, a genus named Teilhardina did not come from Asia as was once thought. A detailed analysis of 163 teeth and jaw fragments recovered from Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin, showed that specimens found in North America which had been classified as Teilhardina asiatica were more primitive and were those of an earlier species, now named T. brandti.

The Teilhardina appeared during the geological equivalent of a flash in the pan, a brief 200,000-year period known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM. During this period, flora and fauna moved with the climate changes, extending their range northward as Earth warmed up then back south again as it cooled at the end of the period.

The Teilhardina genus arose from as yet unknown origins during this period of rapid change, and disappeared at the end of it to be replaced by more advanced primates. The Florida University team's analysis of these fossils has led to a reassessment not only of the genus' origins but to the number of species, reducing it from nine to six species and reassigning two to a new genus altogether - Bownomomys, named after the prominent vertebrate paleontologist, Thomas Bown.

Creationists will no doubt be disturbed to note how our knowledge of evolution, climatology and geology all neatly mesh together in this discovery. We know from geological evidence how a genus originating in North America was able to distribute rapidly into Asia and Europe and which strata correspond to the PETM. We also have evidence for this climate change in the form of a pattern of carbon isotopes, providing an explanation of what drove diversification and distribution of this group of basal primates, and we have an explanation for their disappearance.

This is exactly what is to be expected of theories that are true and it's humbling to think that the entire primate order, including humans, could be descended from a genus that originated during a brief period of global warming lasting only some 200,000 years.

Morse, P. E., Chester, S. G. B., Boyer, D. M., Smith, T., Smith, R., Gigase, P., & Bloch, J. I. (2018).
New fossils, systematics, and biogeography of the oldest known crown primate Teilhardina from the earliest Eocene of Asia, Europe, and North America.
Journal of Human Evolution.

*The Nebraska Man hoax was the hoax perpetrated on Americans by two Christian evangelical preachers, Hank Hanegraff and Grant Jeffrey, who claimed scientists had tried and failed to dupe the public into believing in evolution by claiming a peccary tooth was that of an early man. In fact, no scientist ever claimed the tooth was that of a hominin. Osborn, who wrote a paper on the tooth, only ever suggested it could be the tooth of a primitive ape. With typical integrity and as required by professional scientific etiquette, he withdrew the paper and retracted his claim within a few years when other remains from the same site showed he was wrong.

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