A fossil primate of uncertain affinities from the earliest late Eocene of Egypt

Erik R Seiffert, Elwyn L Simons, Doug M Boyer, Jonathan M G Perry, Timothy M Ryan, Hesham M Sallam
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2010 May 25, 107 (21): 9712-7
Paleontological work carried out over the last 3 decades has established that three major primate groups were present in the Eocene of Africa-anthropoids, adapiforms, and advanced strepsirrhines. Here we describe isolated teeth of a previously undocumented primate from the earliest late Eocene ( approximately 37 Ma) of northern Egypt, Nosmips aenigmaticus, whose phylogenetic placement within Primates is unclear. Nosmips is smaller than the sympatric adapiform Afradapis but is considerably larger than other primate taxa known from the same paleocommunity. The species bears an odd mosaic of dental features, combining enlarged, elongate, and molariform premolars with simple upper molars that lack hypocones. Phylogenetic analysis across a series of different assumption sets variously places Nosmips as a stem anthropoid, a nonadapiform stem strepsirrhine, or even among adapiforms. This phylogenetic instability suggests to us that Nosmips likely represents a highly specialized member of a previously undocumented, and presumably quite ancient, endemic African primate lineage, the subordinal affinities of which have been obscured by its striking dental autapomorphies. Discriminant functions based on measurements of lower molar size and topography reliably classify extant prosimian primates into their correct dietary groups and identify Nosmips and Afradapis as omnivores and folivores, respectively. Although Nosmips currently defies classification, this strange and unexpected fossil primate nevertheless provides additional evidence for high primate diversity in northern Africa approximately 37 million years ago and further underscores the fact that our understanding of early primate evolution on that continent remains highly incomplete.

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