35 million years ago

Evolution of the primates

Aegyptopithecus

Primates first evolved about eight or nine months ago in Earth's life, shortly before the extinction of the dinosaurs. The early primates (those that lived 35 to about 65 million years ago) were not monkeys, but the ancestors of lemurs, lorises and tarsiers. They belong to a group of animals called prosimians. They had good vision, were agile insectivores and lived in trees.

About four months ago in our timeline (really about 35 million years ago), another group of primates, the monkeys, evolved from one of the prosimians (possibly an ancestor of the tarsier). They had prehensile tail, a long snout and good senses of smell and sight. One of the earliest monkeys, called Aegyptopithecus, lived in the forests of Africa. Monkeys soon spread throughout Africa, South America and parts of Europe. They evolved into, for example, macaques and baboons in Africa and marmosets and tamarins in South America.

About three months ago in our timeline (that is really 25 million years ago) tree-dwelling primates called dryopithecines, which lived in Africa at this time, began to live on the ground at least for part of the time. They gradually evolved into apes.

The earliest well known ape is called Proconsul, which evolved about two months ago on the timeline (17 million years ago). It had a flatter face and larger brain than Aegyptopithecus and was the size of baboon.

In Africa, the chimpanzee and gorilla evolved, but about one month ago on our timeline (10 million years ago), apes started to spread to Europe and Asia. One of these apes, Ramapithecus, moved into Asia and gave rise to the orangutans. Gigantopithecus, the largest ape, lived in the forests of south east Asia and was 2.5 m tall.

Hominids, the group of primates that includes us, eventually evolved from ancient apes.


The Earth is now 46 years oldBack to 100-0 million years ago

The Earth is now 46 years old.