Sunday, October 2, 2011

Multimillion-year-old skull may hold key to human origins

Scientists in Paris show 20-million-year-old skull they hope will help with the study of human ancestry.

Man may be a distant relatives of chimpanzees and bonobo monkeys, but scientists working in Uganda came back to Paris with a new addition to the primates' family picture.

Found amid the layers of sediment beneath the volcanoes of the Karamoja region, on the Napak XV hillside, scientists said the Ugandapithecus skull is the most complete of its kind to have ever been unearthed.

The discovery of the skull represents the culmination of more than 25 years of work and an arduous search process by paleontologists across grassy inclines.

"It's the first time we've got a real good sample of Ugandapithecus Major. Before that, it was known by jaw fragments, isolated teeth, a few postcranial bones. But here, we really have a good idea for the first time of what the whole skull might have looked like," said Dr Martin Pickford, one of the paleontologists who discovered the skull.

The fossil's position between various volcanic levels allows scientists to put an age to the skull, and despite the lack of tissue for DNA analysis, Dr Pickford estimates the its age at around 20 million years.

The British paleontologist said the discovery would allow scientists to fill a gap in the lineage of primates but said the Ugandapithecus could very well have become extinct without leading to the birth of man.

The discovery is also important in that it marks the first year of archeological excavation in Uganda without the need for military escorts.


2011. "Multimillion-year-old skull may hold key to human origins". Telegraph. Posted: September 19, 2011. Available online:

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