Feeds

Scientists unearth 'missing link' jawbone

Possible common ancestor of great apes and humans?

The next step in data security

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. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
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?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.