New York — Researchers have discovered a new primate species that lived in Jammu and Kashmir some 11 to 14 million years ago. Scientists have named the new species Ramadapis sahnii.
It is a member of the ancient Sivaladapidae primate family, consumed leaves and was about the size of a house cat, said study co-author Biren Patel, Associate Professor at Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California in the US.
The findings, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, could shed new light on human evolution.
“Among the primates, the most common ones in the Kashmir region are from a genus called Sivapithecus, which were ancestral forms of orangutans,” Patel said.
“The fossil we found is from a different group on the primate family tree — one that is poorly known in Asia. We are filling an ecological and biogeographical gap that wasn’t really well documented. Every little step adds to the understanding of our human family tree because we’re also primates,” Patel said.
The last primate found in the area was 38 years ago. So, in addition to being a new species, this is the first primate fossil found in the area in decades.
After six years of digging, the researchers found part of the ancient primate’s jawbone and analysis revealed that the species is related to lemurs — the primitive primate group distantly connected to monkeys, apes and humans.
“People want to know about human origins, but to fully understand human origins, you need to understand all of primate origins, including the lemurs and these Sivaladapids,” Patel said.
“Lemurs and sivaladapids are sister groups to what we are — the anthropoids — and we are all primates,” Patel explained.
Researchers from Panjab University, Hunter College of the City University of New York, Arizona State University, New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology and Stony Brook University in New York also contributed to this study.
The question that remains is how the ecosystem in northern India supported this species when its relatives elsewhere were disappearing or had already gone extinct.
The researchers believe that future fieldwork and recovering more fossil primates will help answer this question.