The remains of a 21 million-year-old monkey have been found in North America. In a rare discovery, seven fossilised monkey teeth have been found during a project to expand the Panama Canal. The fossilised teeth date back 21 million years ago, also believed to be from the first known monkey in the continent.

The Panama Canal expansion began in 2007 and the objective of the scheme was to increase the number of boats which could pass through the canal. The canal banks were broken up to make the waterway wider. This gave an opportunity to the researchers from the University of Florida to excavate the Las Cascadas Formation site. They found the teeth there.

The rare discovery has been published in the journal Nature. The findings also suggest that the monkey had travelled to North America from South America 21 million years ago. It would have looked like a modern capuchin and had travelled 100 miles of water dividing the two continents.

The New World monkeys originally were from South America. Scientists previously believed that the monkeys came to North America after a land bridge was built 3.5 million years ago, which connects South America to the North. The bridge called the Isthmus of Panama gave them the first route to travel between the continents but the fossil findings have changed the perception of the scientists, reported International Business Times.

Jonathan Bloch, the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus and co-author of the study, said that the discovery of the 21 million-year-old monkey adds a new chapter to the history of New World monkeys.

Bloch and his colleagues said that the monkey might have come through the ancient sea. However, swimming more than 100 miles is difficult even for professional swimmers so they concluded that the monkey had unintentionally travelled through mats of vegetations, as stated by Discovery.

“Somehow they made a transoceanic journey from Africa, then they dispersed throughout South America. Now we see that they, as far as we know, are the only mammal that successfully crossed the early Miocene Central American Seaway into present-day Panama. So how were monkeys able to do this? Hopefully, future fossil discoveries will help us better understand this extraordinary history,” Bloch said.

The analysis of the teeth showed they were from a new species. Subsequently, the species was named as Panamacebus transitus.

Scientists recently revealed that a fossilised femur bone left forgotten in a drawer at the Museum of Geology and Palaeontology in Palermo, Italy belonged to an abelisaur, a carnivorous dinosaur that lived 95 million years ago.