Research has revealed that the common ancestor that we share with chimpanzees (our closest primate cousins) lived in Africa 6 to 7 million years ago. But we know far less about the older ancestors that we share with modern apes — those which lived more than 10 million years ago.
A newly announced 13-million-year-old skull might help shed some light on where those ancestors came from and what they looked like.
The skull belongs to an infant specimen of what researchers say is an extinct, newly identified species of ancient ape called Nyanzapithecus alesi. The fossil was found in Kenya in 2014, where discoverer John Ekusi nicknamed it Alesi, after the word “ancestor” in the local Turkana language.
Alesi’s teeth showed researchers that it’s a new species. The skull is also so well-preserved that scientists were able to estimate that the creature died at about 16 months of age.
Since so little is known about the common ancestors of living apes and humans, Alesi can help reveal what they may have looked like. And while there’s debate about whether our ape ancestors came from Eurasia or Africa, this particular discovery points towards an African origin.
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