In Kenya, a fossil of a skull that may belong to a close species (a “cousin”) has now been discovered and originated from all primates currently living, including humans. This fossil, which belonged to a young primate, is the most complete skull ever discovered of a species of extinct primate. Their study may offer more clues about the species from which monkeys and humans evolved.
Everything indicates that in the line of evolution of the species there was a species of the superfamily Hominid that gave origin to all the primates. It is then thought that monkeys and humans originated in this species. Later, seven million years ago, they followed different evolutionary paths, which makes us more “cousins” than “brothers” of the other primates who cohabit with us on Earth today. This skull discovered in northern Kenya, is as small as a lemon, it is thought to belong to a species very close to this common ancestor. Analyzing it is to be able to know more about the past of the human species.
John Ekusi, a famous anthropologist at De Anza College, discovered this fossil in a Kenyan region called Napudet. Named Alesi, as was baptized by the investigators, this being lived about 13 million years ago. At the outset, this is what indicates the dating of the sediments where the skull was buried. After confirming these data, it is thought that Alesi belongs to an intermediate species between the common ancestor of primates and humans, which existed on planet Earth between 10 and 14 million years.
This little primate will have died in a very dense forest and its corpse was preserved by the ashes expelled during a volcanic eruption.
This specimen belonging to a very ancient primate species, Nyanzapithecus alesi, Alesi shares physical characteristics with some of the primates still alive today, namely “Old World monkeys” such as baboon or langur. According to the scientists, the face of Alesi would be very similar to that of a doublet. And although it had a skull twice as big as the skull of the Old World Monkeys that survived to the present day, the brain had only a volume equivalent to seven tablespoons.
It was found that Alesi, also had very developed ear bones, adult teeth, which had not yet burst, were studied by x-rays and three-dimensional models designed not to damage the fossil. These analyzes proved that this primate belonged to the Nyanzapithecenos, a sister species of gibbons, great primates and humans. It is also for this reason that scientists know that Alesi is a “cousin” of the ancestor we share with the other primates and that it did not exist long after this common ancestor disappeared from Earth.
Finding Alesi was lucky for John Ekusi, so the anthropologist told National Geographic. Other anthropologists had searched that region since 2013, but they had never found anything significant. As early as 2014, Ekusi decided to move away from the digging area to smoke a cigarette, looking at the ground, noticed what appeared to be the head of an elephant’s femur. Curious, he started to walk around the supposed femur and called his team to start digging. A few minutes later, “everyone began to dance”, recalls the anthropologist: the team had found the most complete skull of an extinct primate ever discovered.
Alesi is therefore a link between us and great primates like chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas. The human evolutionary line diverged from that of the Old World Monkeys between 25 and 28 million years ago during the Miocene era. But seven million years ago, many species of primates got in the way, as the Earth underwent so great a climate change that only the fittest species could survive. The human is descended from one of these species. The other primates of modernity too, but evolved differently.
It is possible that by studying the species of Alesi we may come to know more about the species that we have in common in our origins. So far, we know very little about our evolutionary “grandparents”, because the older primates lived in rainforests whose weather conditions did not provide good conditions for the fossilization of corpses. Alesi is a rare case: before him, scientists had only found one more intact skull of a Miocene primate.