A cache of ancient bones, exquisitely preserved, were found in a left-over coal mine in Gujarat, which appear to be the most primitive primate bones yet discovered, according to an analysis led by researchers from the Johns Hopkins University and Des Moines University.
More than that, the Gujarat primates date back to a time when what is now India was a drifting land mass — isolated from the northern continents and inching its way toward southern Asia.
The team says with confidence that the tiny primates occupied equatorial India prior to its collision with Asia, referring to what we call ancient Gondwana island, that was once separated from the mainland.
“All other primate bones found so far around the world clearly belong to one or the other of the two primate groups, called clades: Strepsirrhini and Haplorhini,” says Kenneth Rose, professor emeritus in the Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
According to Rose and lead author Rachel Dunn, an assistant professor of anatomy at Des Moines University, this suggests that the little primates represent a very early stage of primate evolution, traceable to the beginning of the Eocene Epoch, about 56 million years ago, when the world was warming, encouraging the dispersal of mammals between northern continents.
The oldest known primate fossils found appeared around then in North America, Europe and northern Asia. The newly discovered group of 25 tiny bones, all from somewhere below the neck of the animals, are younger — some 54.5 million years old — but considerably more primitive than the oldest known primate fossil, Teilhardina, which first appears in deposits at the beginning of the Eocene, almost 56 million years old, they said.
The research findings were published in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Earlier, in 2001, the same team combed paleontological traces in India and found fossils in an open-pit coal mine near Mumbai, which was a mother-of-all 200 Cambatherium thewissi fossils found in India and China.
These ancient animals, called Perissodactyla, lived 56 million years ago and the “odd-toed” ungulate belonged to this group with odd-numbered toes on their rear feet. Though the fossil record was rather thin, it helped researchers crack the so-called “missing-link” in evolution of these animals.
Prof. Kenneth Rose said that Cambaytherium traits indicate that at the time the animal was alive, India was isolated without land link to Africa or the Arabian peninsula. They were able to piece together what Cambaytherium might have looked like. It could have weighed between 45 pounds and 75 pounds, resembling a mini-version of both a horse and a rhino, though without the hallmark on its hooves.
What is Gondwanaland?
In paleogeography, Gondwana is the name given to the continent, which was, alongwith the Laurasia, was part of the Pangaea super-continent that existed from approximately 510 to 180 million years ago. In Vedic scriptures it was mentioned as “Jambudweepa”.
Gondwana formed prior to Pangaea, then became part of Pangaea, and finally broke up following the break up of Pangaea. Gondwana is believed to have sutured between about 570 and 510 million years ago, thus joining East Gondwana to West Gondwana. It separated from Laurasia about 200-180 million years ago during the mid-Mesozoic era.
Gondwana included today’s Southern Hemisphere, including Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, and the Australian continent, besides the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Subcontinent as shown in the picture. The name Gondwana was given by Austrian scientist Eduard Suess, after the Gondwana region of central northern India from Sanskrit Gondavana “forest of the Gonds”.