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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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13-Million-Year-Old Skull May Represent Human Ancestor

Thursday, August 10, 2017

ancestral ape fossilSTONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Science Magazine reports that an almost complete skull of an infant Miocene ape has been discovered sticking up out of the ground in Kenya’s Turkana Basin. The baseball-sized skull, which has been dated to 13 million years ago, could help scientists learn more about the last common ancestor of modern apes and humans, which lived an estimated seven million years ago. The team of researchers, led by Isaiah Nengo of Se Anza College and the Turkana Basin Institute, which is affiliated with Stony Brook University, says the infant’s teeth resemble those of other fossil primates from the genus Nyanzapithecus, but its molars are much larger, so it has been classified as a new species, N. alesi, after the Turkana word for “ancestor.” X-ray images produced at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, revealed growth lines on un-erupted adult teeth in the skull. The lines suggest that Alesi, as the creature has been nicknamed, was about 16 months old at the time of death. The X-rays also brought Alesi’s boney ear tubes to light. These structures have helped to classify nyanzapithecines as apes, and as ancestral to modern humans and apes. All previous nyanzapithecines species have only been represented by teeth in the fossil record. For more, go to “No Changeups on the Savannah.”

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