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Fossil skull goes ape.

Fossil skull goes ape

The discovery of a 9- to 10-million-year-old fossil skull in Greece recently stirred controversy with their contention that the specimen, assigned to the species Ouranopithecus macedoniensis, may represent the earliest known hominid (SN: 6/23/90, p.390). Most investigators accept the 3- to 3.5-million-year-old remains of Australopithecus afarensis, which include the partial skeleton of "Lucy," as the first hominids, or members of the evolutionary family that includes modern humans.

Initial criticism of the Greek find stressed its anatomical links to orangutans, not hominids. But a new study finds a strong cranial connection between Ouranopithecus and both chimpanzees and gorillas.

"Ouranopithecus was not a hominid, but it's an entirely plausible ancestor for African apes and humans," contends study director Robert B. Eckhardt of Penn State University in University Park.

Eckhardt and his colleagues found that the Ouranopithecus fossil shares many dental and cranial features with skulls from 280 common chimpanzees housed in a Frankfurt, Germany colon. These characteristics include canine teeth that project out slightly, a gap between the upper canine and its adjoining incisor, and a jutting upper jaw. The overall pattern resembles gorillas as well as chimpanzees, Eckhardt maintains.

On two of its cheek teeth, Ouranopithecus lacks a rubbed-down surface typically observed among apes--but not among hominids--and caused by overlap with large canines. However, the absence of this canine rubbing does not provide enough evidence for establishing hominid status, since some A. afarensis specimens display ape-like tooth patches produced by canine contact, Eckhardt asserts.

"We need to estabish the population frequency of a single fossil's cranial and dental features, since most of these traits are present in some individuals but not in others within the same species," he argues.
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Title Annotation:fossil primate discovered in Greece
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 20, 1991
Previous Article:European cave carnage.
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