Is This What the Common Ancestor of Humans and Apes Looked Like?
The discovery in Kenya of a 13-million-year-old fossil skull unearths the common ancestor of humans and apes.
It’s long been known that apes and humans share a common ancestor, but not a lot is known about what that ancestor was and where it came from. The fossil record for the Miocene epoch in which it's expected to have lived is mostly comprised of teeth and jawbone fragments. But now, the discovery of a remarkably complete skull of an infant ape is providing unprecedented insight into our ancient common ancestor, and thus, an early look at our own evolution. The research, partially funded by National Geographic, was published August 10, 2017 in Nature.
Much of the information the lemon-sized skull has provided scientists is the result of highly sensitive 3D X-ray imaging performed by the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. The scans revealed unerupted teeth, the brain cavity, and bony inner ear tubes.
ESRF’s 3D animation of KNM-NP 59050 (ESFRSYNCHOTRON)
Fossil KNM-NP 59050 was found by in the Napudet area, west of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. The area was being explored by a team from the Turkana Basin Institute’s De Anza College led by Isaiah Nengo. (The school is affiliated with Stony Brook College in the U.S.)
Expedition assistant John Ekusi discovered the fossil as he broke off from the team to smoke a hand-rolled cigarette. Others watched from a distance, intrigued, as Ekusi began circling something on the ground that had obviously caught his attention. His initial thought was that the rounded fossil poking through the dirt was an elephant femur. As the team realized what it really was, night was falling, so, after a bit of celebratory dancing, they reburied it until morning. As Nengo recollects, “I tell you, nobody was sleeping that night."
KNM-NP 59050’s snout shape suggests it could have been a prehistoric gibbon, but the structure of its inner ears says otherwise. As Fred Spoor of University College London and the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology told Phys.org, "Gibbons are well known for their fast and acrobatic behavior in trees, but the inner ears of Alesi show that it would have had a much more cautious way of moving around."
Its unerupted teeth placed the skull in the genus Nyanzapithecus as the first member of a brand-new species: Nyanzapithecus alesi. Prior to this find, Nyanzapithecus were known only by bits of tooth, and it wasn’t even clear that they were in fact apes. Again though, the fully developed bony inner ear tubes in KNM-NP 59050 — a trait also seen in today’s apes — provided the critical link.
The tiny Alesi skull is 13 million years old. Craig S. Feibel of Rutgers University-New Brunswick says, "A nearby volcano buried the forest where the baby ape lived, preserving the fossil and countless trees,” adding, “it provided us with the critical volcanic minerals by which we were able to date the fossil."
The site of the discovery in Kenya (ISAIAH NENGO)
"Nyanzapithecus alesi was part of a group of primates that existed in Africa for over 10 million years,” Nengo says, adding, “What the discovery of Alesi shows is that this group was close to the origin of living apes and humans and that this origin was African."
Here’s ESRF’s video about the discovery of Nyanzapithecus alesi.
A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.
- Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
- The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
- The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.
- America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
- Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
- Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
The definition of a kilogram will now be fixed to Planck's constant, a fundamental part of quantum physics.
- The new definition of a kilogram is based on a physical constant in quantum physics.
- Unlike the current definition of a kilogram, this measurement will never change.
- Scientists also voted to update the definitions of several other measurements in physics.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.