7 million-year-old monkey tooth discovered in Abu Dhabi

A fossilised monkey specimen, believed to be 6.5 million to 8 million years old, has been discovered by scientists on Shuwaihat Island in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region, Al Gharbia.

An international team of scientists from Hunter College, City University of New York, the Museum for Naturkunde (Natural History) - Berlin, Yale University, and Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, TCA Abu Dhabi, have announced the discovery which could provide important clues as to when, and how, Old World monkeys dispersed out of Africa and into Eurasia.

Old World monkeys are a diverse and widespread group, which includes African and Asian macaques, baboons, mangabeys, leaf monkeys and langurs.

They are considered to be the most thriving species of primates and although still found throughout Africa and Asia today, their dispersal out of Africa and into Eurasia has never been fully understood. 

"These fossils indicate that, instead, Old World monkey dispersal could have taken place through the Arabian Peninsula even before the Messinian Crisis," said Dr. Gilbert, lead author of the study.  

The fossil find, a very small lower molar, was discovered in 2009. The team determined that the tooth belonged to the earliest known guenon, which are some of the most brightly coloured and distinctive monkeys in modern African forests. 

"When we found it, we were doing back-breaking sieving work searching for remains of tiny fossil rodents," said Dr. Faysal Bibi of Berlin’s Museum for Naturkunde, a study co-author and discoverer of the little molar.

 "We spent many days over consecutive years sieving through tons of sand at this one site. It paid off," he added.

"We still know relatively little about ancient life in the Arabian Peninsula." "A rare find like this is a first for the entire region," said Dr. Bibi.

Mohammed Amer Al-Neyadi, Head of the Historic Environment Department at TCA Abu Dhabi, said, "The preservation of the Late Miocene fossil sites in Abu Dhabi is of paramount importance."

"It’s essential that these sites be protected to further our understanding of the ancient fossil record," he added.

Illustrative fossil tooth image: Courtesy Shutterstock

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