Scientists announced this week that a fossil from China sheds light on the origins of primates. At 55 million years old, the Archicebus achilles – archicebus roughly translates as “ancient monkey” – represents the earliest known member of the broad group of animals that includes humans.
A team from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh report that the creature probably lived in the trees of the then-thriving forest canopy of the region. News of its diminutive size, wide eyes and warm-bloodedness, which would have required it to scamper constantly about to stay warm, was met by the scientific community with,“Awww, cute!”
“How adorable is that?” Dr. Felix Randle of the University of Wales said when shown an artist’s impression of the Archicebus. “I mean, OMG,” said the author of New Perspectives on Colombian Primates: Distribution, Ecology, Behaviour and Conservation.
“Squeee!” actor Morgan Freeman said in preparation for his narration of a forthcoming documentary chronicling the find and subsequent research surrounding the animal he would refer to only as “the cuddle-monkey.”
“We cannot comment at this time,” a spokesperson for the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center said, shortly before all its faculty members changed their Twitter avatars to an artist’s rendering of the long-tailed Archicebus. It then announced the institution’s closing, citing the discovery of “the ultimately adorable monkey,” which “has rendered all further primate research unnecessary.”
“It’s an enormously significant find,” Dr. Jane Goodall said when interviewed about the discovery during a routine visit to the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda. “One that tells us a lot about our very distant ancestors, who I only hope were as crushingly adorable as dis wittle ting,” she added, sweeping an infant chimpanzee tersely out of her way and then gazing, lost, into the middle distance. “Can I just see the picture again?”
The Archicebus achilles fossil was originally discovered about 10 years ago in eastern China, just south of the Yangtze River, by a farmer, who, residents of the area say, immediately recognized the significant level of cute in his find: He smiled stupidly while shaking his head slowly before reporting the discovery to authorities in a sing-song baby voice.
“He gave up farming completely shortly after that,” said a neighbour, who has not seen the fossil and asked not to be identified. “As far as anyone can tell, now he spends all of his time up-voting pictures of kittens and otters on Reddit – just trying to capture that initial thrill again, I guess.”
Scientists spent the next 10 years analyzing the fossil using advanced imaging facilities at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. The team worked in short shifts to avoid winsome-blindness and to keep the spontaneous production of saccharine calenders to a minimum.
The work was slow. Three years were spent just writing funny captions for pictures of the Archicebus. An additional two years were lost to Photoshopping their discovery into images of famous events and classic works of art.
“But,” said a scientist on the project, “that time was hardly wasted. You should see the one where the Archicebus is on Neil Armstrong’s shoulder, or the super-cute one where he’s riding Pepper Spray Cop’s spray can. It is so adorable. To be honest, we were stalling for time. There were concerns the world just wasn't ready for something like this yet. From the get-go, we knew that, with this little guy, we’d basically split the cute atom.”
Some have even suggested that this week’s announcement, made in the journal Nature, was deliberately timed to undermine the power of a certain strong, stable panda-delivering government.
“We don’t want to see the kind of cute escalation we saw in the 1970s,” said a highly placed source in the Prime Minister’s Office, who agreed to meet me at the Toronto Zoo. “IKEA monkey, then this. It’s a concerted, simian-based effort to destabilize the governing forces of cuteness and – just look at those pandas! But, oh geez, the Archicebus were so teeny-tiny, and they had such long tails!”
“The Prime Minster calls them ‘iddy-biddy,’ sir,” his aide interrupted. “They were, like, three inches long! I could fit three of them in my hand!” he said. “If they were sleeping. … Oh, wow, can you imagine them sleeping?”
“Adorbs,” said my source.