The monkeys that traveled from Africa to South America

by Rick Roberts
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While much of our examination of history examines the movement of man throughout the world, we don’t focus as much on the movement of animals throughout the world. While we know that the first man likely originated in Africa and spread to the world from there we have not been as extensive in our research into the movement of different types of animals. A new discovery in South America now suggests that some animals may have migrated across the Atlantic ocean from Africa.

A group of paleontologists was researching a historic site in Peru close to the Brasilian border. They came across a number of animal ruins including monkeys from the South American continent, bats, and capybara. Yet what amazed the scientists was that they also found fossils of a monkey that was native only to Africa. They found a set of four teeth from an African primate and were initially stumped on how it ended up in the Americas.

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At first, they wondered if they were mistaken. Perhaps a South American monkey had followed a similar evolutionary path and ended up with teeth of a similar nature. However, this was ruled out. Mammal teeth change quickly in evolutionary terms so they are very distinct. The teeth were exactly like those of the African primate and so it was clear it was not a local species. The current leading hypothesis is that some animals made it across the Atlantic by some form of a natural raft that would have had enough vegetation for the animals to survive. 

Now no one is saying that the monkeys decided to set sail for America and built there own raft. Instead, there is evidence of large pieces of land breaking off from the continent and floating across the ocean. A number of have been documented floating in the Panama Canal that still had trees on it. 

It is possible then that a large ‘raft’ broke off from Africa that had plenty of food for animals to survive. As further evidence, scientists suggest that they have only made discoveries like this about very small animals, who would not require a lot of food to survive. The fossils on the site data back 32 million meaning that these monkeys survived quite a long journey, as at that time the continents were not connected at all. If you are wondering the continental structure of Earth was still relatively the same as it is today although continents would have been slightly closer together. 120 million years ago South America and Africa may have been joined together and over 200 million years ago Pangea would have existed.

There are only a few other documented instances of animals making such long journeys. New world monkeys and a type of rodent are the only two. The rodent is believed to be an ancestor of the modern capybara. The monkey in question on this find is believed to have existed in Africa between 56 and 23 million years ago and populated countries such as Libya, Egypt, and Tanzania.

It is amazing to think that these animals survived a journey that it would take man many more years to figure it out. While these monkeys likely sat in trees that just happened to be floating across the Atlantic man would spend many more years trialing various contraptions with the aim of crossing the large ocean. 

The study was published in the Journal called Science and has been well accepted by the field. A number of leading paleontologists have come out in support of the study since its publication suggesting that monkeys traveling between continents on a natural raft, is very likely what happened many millions of years ago.

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