The Japan Times, July 25, 1997
Skull gives clue to ape-monkey split
NEW YORK (AP) Researchers have found a skull from a 15-million-year-old monkey that suggests that a still-undiscovered ancestor of both monkeys and people looked different from what many scientists thought.
"It tells us what our relative looked like 25 million years ago," said researcher Brenda Benefit of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
That undiscovered ancestor stood at a crucial split in the evolutionary family tree. One branch went on to produce apes and people; the other branch led to Old World monkeys, which live in Africa and Asia today.
Scientists have been trying to figure out what this ancestor looked like.
The new finding suggests its face looked more like an orangutan's than many scientists thought, Benefit said.
The fossil, found in 1994 on Maboko Island, Kenya, is the oldest known skull from an Old World monkey. It came from a creature called Victoriapithecus, a fruit-munching, 5-kg creature that walked on the ground and climbed trees.
Victoriapithecus is not an ancestor of people, since it comes from the evolutionary branch of Old World monkeys. But it's closer than any other known monkey to the split with the ape-human branch, so it probably resembles the elusive ancestor of monkeys and humans that occupied the split, Benefit said.
While many scientists believe this ancestor had a ball-shaped skull, Victoriapithecus suggests the skull was long and low, shaped more like the top half of a football. And while a popular theory says the ancestor had a gibbonlike flat face, the new find suggests its snout stuck out a bit more, like an orangutan's or a chimp's.
The finding will help scientists evaluate other fossils as they try to find the elusive ancestor, Benefit said.
Benefit and her husband and colleague, Monte McCrossin, announced the find in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
SCIENTISTS BELIEVE this 15-million-year-old skull of a monkey, called Victoriapithecus and found on Maboko Island, Kenya, suggests that a still-undiscovered ancestor of monkeys and people looked more like an orangutan than many scientists had thought.