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Human roots went even deeper into Africa

Lived in Africa, not only in common with our chimpanzee ancestors but also the ancestors of all hominids – gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and humans.


Skull Nyanzapithecus alesi. (Photo: Fred Spoor Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.)

Skull Nyanzapithecus alesi was quite small. (Photo: Christopher Kiarie.)”

As you know, our closest relatives among the apes is apes, among them chimpanzees. Our last common ancestor with chimpanzees lived in Africa about 6-7 million years ago, then moved away from it a branch of the people (why is Africa called the cradle of mankind), and further development of Homo can be seen in the many remains, which have accumulated a fair amount and find which continue to this day .

But what if we look at the timeline in the other direction, that is, toward the common ancestor of humans and other apes – not only chimpanzees, but gorillas and orangutans? What he looked like and where he lived, in Africa or anywhere else? By the time it’s about 10 million years ago, but the finds of the era relating to anthropoid primates, rare and scattered, and often look like the wreckage of the jaws or even individual teeth.

However, three years ago, anthropologists were lucky: in Kenya, near lake Turkana, found almost intact “humanoid” skull aged about 13 million years. Skull small, similar at first glance gibboney, however, the analysis of the location and structure of the teeth showed that he belonged to the Primate of the genus Nyanzapithecus. Their remains were found in Kenya before, but until now it was unclear whether Nyanzapithecus to apes – they are sometimes found only a few teeth.

Researchers from the Institute of evolutionary anthropology, max Planck Society, new York University, University of stony brook and other research centers for several years studied the skull using including synchrotron radiation source in Grenoble, to look literally inside the bone.

Teeth remaining in the skull, differed from those of Nyanzapithecus knew until now, so the skull was identified for a new type of Nyanzapithecus alesi. The word “alesi” in the language of the Turkana people means ancestor, and anthropologists have every reason to believe that they managed to find the common ancestor of all hominids – the so-called orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans. In particular, in addition to the teeth, to belong to hominids also indicates the structure of the Eustachian tube that connects the middle ear with the throat.

What to the small size of the skull, because of which the discovery was nearly related to the Gibbons (which also belong to the apes, but still form a separate group hylobates), then all is the fact that the owner of the skull died at a very young age – he (or she) was only a year and four months. The complete results of the research published in the journal Nature.

Of course, we don’t know exactly whether it Nyanzapithecus direct common ancestors of hominids, but in any case, the common ancestors looked very similar to them. That Nyanzapithecus found and continue to find in Africa suggests that the evolution of those branches of primates that eventually gave the person more deeply rooted in this continent is here inhabited not only human ancestors but also the ancestors of their ancestors.

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