The following excerpt from Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library (Sterling Signature, 2012), edited by Tom Baione, the Museum Library’s director, highlights the role of rare 19th- and 20th-century monographs in advancing science. It was written by Joel L. Cracraft, chair of the Division of Vertebrate Zoology.
The world’s oldest known fossil primate skeleton is from an animal that lived about 55 million years ago and was even smaller than today’s smallest primate, the pygmy mouse lemur. The new specimen, named Archicebus achilles, was unearthed from an ancient lake bed in central China and is described by an international team of researchers today in the journal Nature.
New research out of the Museum today is the first to provide definitive proof that green algae eat bacteria. The finding, captured with electron microscope images, offers a glimpse at how scientists think early organisms acquired free-living chloroplasts, the structures responsible for converting light into food. This event is thought to be a critical first step in the evolution of photosynthetic algae and land plants, which helped raise oxygen levels in Earth’s atmosphere and paved the way for the rise of animals.
Excavations at Mexico’s Valley of Oaxaca have recovered the region’s earliest known temple precinct, which, according to a new study by the American Museum of Natural History, existed about 1,500 years earlier than similar temples described by colonial Europeans. The findings are described this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.