Feeds

Scientists unearth 'missing link' jawbone

Possible common ancestor of great apes and humans?

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Scientists are postulating that a 10 million year old jawbone unearthed in Kenya's northern Nakali region may belong to the so-called evolutionary "missing link" - the common ancestor of African great apes and humans.

The fragment, along with 11 teeth, was discovered in 2005 in volcanic mud flow deposits by Japanese and Kenyan researchers. They have dubbed the new species - described by Reuters as "somewhere between the size of a female gorilla and a female orang-utan" - as Nakalipithecus nakayamai.

Frederick Manthi, senior research scientist at the National Museums of Kenya, declared at a press conference: "Based on this particular discovery, we can comfortably say we are approaching the point at which we can pin down the so-called missing link."

Yutaka Kunimatsu at Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute told the news agency: "It could be positioned before the split between gorillas, chimps and humans."

If Nakalipithecus nakayamai is indeed the common ancestor of great apes and humans, the discovery supports the theory that it, and subsequently the great apes and humans, evolved entirely in Africa. An alternative theory - based on the fact that "so little fossil evidence in Africa dating between seven to 13 million years ago" - suggests accordingly that "the last common ancestor left Africa for Europe and Asia, and then returned later".

Kunimatsu elaborated: "Now, we have a good candidate in Africa. We do not need to think the common ancestor came back from Eurasia to Africa. I think it is more likely the common ancestor evolved from the apes in the Miocene in Africa."

However, the team warned further evidence was required before a definitive explanation could be reached. Manthi admitted: "We have to find more fossils from a cross-section of sites to sustain that particular theory."

Kunimatsu added: "We only have some jaw fragments and some teeth... but we hope to find other body parts in our future research. We plan to go back next year. We will try to find bones below the neck to tell us how the animal moved."

What the researchers have deduced, though, is Nakalipithecus nakayamai's diet. Kunimatsu concluded: "The teeth were covered in thick enamel and the caps were low and voluminous, suggesting that the diet of this ape consisted of a considerable amount of hard objects, like nuts or seeds, and fruit."

The team's findings are published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Rosetta science team thinks Philae might come to life in the spring
And disclose the biggest surprise of Comet 67P
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing and building an open ITOA architecture
Learn about a new IT data taxonomy defined by the four data sources of IT visibility: wire, machine, agent, and synthetic data sets.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.