Myanmar fossil may shed light on evolution

"These fragments are still too few and far between," Hurum said. "This is the kind of scientific debate that will continue until more complete skeletons like Ida has been found, and this may take several hundred years."

Stony Brook University Prof. John G. Fleagle, a paleontologist, said the discovery of Ganlea is important because it shows how several different primates found in Myanmar are related and provides interesting suggestions about a unique dietary specialization.

But he said the Myanmar fossils do little to prove whether anthropoids evolved in Asia or Africa — or even whether Ganlea was an anthropoid or an early relative of lemurs.

"This doesn't add anything new about whether anthropoids came from Africa or Asia or the broader evolutionary relationships of these particular primates ," Fleagle said.

"The definitive features that would resolve it in people's mind would be in the skull," he said. "Without a skull to demonstrate the distinctive anthropoid features of the eye and ear regions, scientists will still continue to debate whether the dental similarities just indicate similar diets or are the result of a common heritage."

Beard isn't letting the criticism slow him down. He and his team expect to return in November to Myanmar to continue searching for more fossils and exploring how anthropoids evolved in Asia and then migrated to Africa.

"The question is when and how did this big evolutionary shift occur from Asia to Africa," Beard said. "That is something we are trying to establish. We have a team working in Myanmar which has ideas of places to go in Africa to try and pick up thread there."

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