New York: Researchers have discovered in Libya a previously unknown anthropoid primate -- a forerunner of today's monkeys, apes and humans.
The scientits performed the research at the Zallah Oasis, a promising site for unearthing fossils from the Oligocene period, roughly 30 million years ago.
Dubbed Apidium zuetina, it is the first example of Apidium to be found outside of Egypt, the researchers said.
"Apidium is interesting because it was the first early anthropoid primate ever to be found and described in 1908," said lead researcher K. Christopher Beard from the University of Kansas, US.
"The oldest known Apidium fossils are about 31 million years old, while the youngest are 29 million. Before our discovery in Libya, only three species of Apidium were ever recovered in Egypt. People had come up with the idea that these primates had evolved locally in Egypt," Beard pointed out.
Beard said that Apidium zuetina would have been physically similar to modern-day squirrel monkeys from South America, but with smaller brains, and would have dined on fruits, nuts and seeds.
"We know that Apidium was a very active arboreal monkey, a really good leaper," he said.
The team identified Apidium zuetina through detailed analysis of its teeth.
"All of the fossils we have so far are just teeth, not even jaw bones -- but fortunately, the teeth of these anthropoids are so distinct and diagnostic that they function like fingerprints at a crime scene," Beard said.
The researchers chose to name Apidium zuetina not after any of its physical characteristics, but after the Zuetina Oil Company that made the dangerous Libyan fieldwork possible.
Beard said the discovery took place during a brief lull in violence in Libya in 2013.
The findings appeared in the Journal of Human Evolution.