The remains of a man who was born around seven million years ago have been discovered in northern Chad by a joint French-Chadian team of archaeologists, making this the oldest human skeleton discovered to date.
Until this find, the oldest human skeleton found was that of Lucy, dated at some 3.5 million years ago, found in Ethiopia although there are signs of human activity already at five million years ago. Somewhere between then, and five million years previously, when there was an abundance of apes, there was an ancestor which marked the split between humans and apes. Little is known about this moment, but this most recent find could be the much-sought-after missing link, the Holy Grail of palaeontologists.
The skeleton found in Chad presents a mixture of ape-like and human-like features. 40 scientists from around the world took part in this discovery, which American scientist Bernard Wood, a palaeontologist from George Washington University, Washington DC, hailed as one which will “fundamentally change the way in which we rebuild the tree of life” adding that “The popular image of a neat line to humans from our common ancestry with chimps is seriously misleading”.
The fossilised remains are composed by an almost complete skull and fragments of the lower jaw, with three teeth. The skeleton is named scientifically as Sahelanthropus Tchadensis (Man from the Chadian Sahara).
In July 2001, the Chadian Ahounta Djimdoumalbave, of the University of Chad, discovered the skull, which he named as Toumai (meaning “life expectancy” in the Goran language), which is the name given to the desert of Djourab, where the remains were found, by the local population, 800 kilometres north of the Chadian capital, Ndjamena.
The team, led by Poitiers University’s Professor Michel Brunet, considers this historic find as an extremely important link in the history of human development, since “it has an original mosaic of primitive characters and derivatives which allow us to consider it as being near to the last common ancestor of the chimpanzees and the human being but also an ancestor of the more recent hominids”.
Emilie ACQUITAINE PRAVDA.Ru Paris France
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