Ancient-ape remains discovered in Kenya

Researchers have found fossils from an approximately 9.8 million-year-old ape that lived in eastern Africa. The creature belonged to a new genus, dubbed Nakalipithecus nakayamai, that may have evolved into a common ancestor of African apes and humans, proposes a team led by Yutaka Kunimatsu of Kyoto University in Japan.

EVOLUTION’S CUSP. This fossil jaw found in Kenya may come from an ancient creature that gave rise to a common ancestor of African apes and humans. Kunimatsu

Fieldwork in Kenya yielded a partial lower jaw containing three teeth as well as a dozen individual teeth, all attributed to Nakalipithecus. The fossils were dated by measurements of radioactive-argon decay in volcanic-ash layers at the African site.

The newly unearthed fossils display a few similarities to fossil teeth of a previously reported ape that lived from 9.6 million to 8.7 million years ago in what is now Greece. Kunimatsu’s group has yet to compare Nakalipithecus with fossils of a 10 million-year-old ape recently discovered in eastern Africa (SN: 11/3/07, p. 280).

Apes evolved in Africa from 11 million to 5 million years ago, the scientists say in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Other investigators speculate that, during that span, European and Asian apes spread into Africa and evolved into various lines of African apes.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

More Stories from Science News on Anthropology