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Fossils of Man's Earliest Ancestor Found in Kenya

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  • LAWolfe@aol.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2000
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      December 4, 2000


      Fossils of Man's Earliest Ancestor Found in Kenya

      REUTERS INDEX: TOP STORIES | INTERNATIONAL | BUSINESS | TECHNOLOGY By
      REUTERSFiled at 7:39 a.m. ET
      NAIROBI, Kenya (Reuters) - French and Kenyan scientists have unearthed
      fossilized remains of mankind's earliest known ancestor that predate
      previous discoveries by more than 1.5 million years, the team announced
      Monday.
      They said the discovery of ``Millennium Man,'' as the creature has been
      nicknamed, could change the way scientists think about evolution and the
      origin of species.
      The first remains were discovered in the Tugen hills of Kenya's Baringo
      district on October 25 by a team from College de France in Paris and the
      Community Museums of Kenya.
      Since then the scientists have unearthed distinct body parts belonging to
      at least five individuals, both male and female.
      ``Not only is this find older than any else previously known, it is also
      in a more advanced stage of evolution,'' paleontologist Martin Pickford
      told a news conference.
      ``It is at least six million years old, which means it is older than the
      (previously oldest) remains found at Aramis in Ethiopia, which were 4.5
      million years old.''
      ``Lucy,'' the skeleton of Australopithicus afarensis found in Ethiopia in
      1974, is believed to have lived around 3.2 million years ago.
      An almost perfectly fossilized left femur shows the much older Millennium
      Man already had strong back legs which enabled it to walk upright --
      giving it hominid characteristics which relate it directly to man.
      A thick right humerus bone from the upper arm suggests it also had
      tree-climbing skills, but probably not enough to ''hang'' from tree
      branches or swing limb to limb.
      The length of the bones show the creature was about the size of a modern
      chimpanzee, according to Brigitte Senut, a team member from the Museum of
      Natural History in Paris.
      But it is the teeth and jaw structure which most clearly link Millennium
      Man to the modern human.
      It has small canines and full molars -- similar dentition to modern man
      and suggesting a diet of mainly fruit and vegetables with occasional
      opportunistic meat-eating.
      PREVIOUS DATING PROVES AGE OF SITE
      Although no dating has been done on the remains just unearthed, strata
      from where the fossils were recovered have been previously proven twice by
      independent teams -- from Britain and the U.S. -- to show an age of six
      million years.
      The Baringo area is part of Africa's Great Rift Valley, which has long
      been rich in archaeological and paleontological discoveries and the source
      of almost all fossils related to man's earliest ancestors.
      The area is rich in calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate that replace
      the organic material in bones to form fossils in an environment sealed by
      lava or volcanic ash.
      Pickford and Senut said they were confident the team would unearth even
      more remains that could help form a near-perfect picture of Millennium Man.
      ``We are just going to publish our initial findings, to get the
      excitement, and continue with our work,'' Pickford said. ``I am sure there
      is still a lot more out there -- possibly even older.''
      Fossil parts of other species found at the same site hint at a rich
      variety of fauna and flora.
      ``We have found fossils of trees, fossils of rhino, hippo, antelope ...
      many things,'' said Senut. ``They would not be what you recognize today,
      but earlier ancestors of them.''
      Chew marks on one femur of Millennium Man suggest our earliest ancestor
      may have met an unfortunate end, but one that is still played out across
      parts of Africa every day.
      ``It looks like he was killed and eaten by some sort of carnivore,
      probably a cat,'' said Pickford.
      ``It was probably dragged up a tree to the cat's usual eating place and
      then bits fell into the water below.''
      The latest fossils were found in the village of Rondinin in the Tugen
      hills, around 150 miles northeast of the capital Nairobi.
      The area is home to Kenya's long-serving President Daniel arap Moi -- a
      coincidence unlikely to pass unnoticed by the nation's sharp-pencilled
      cartoonists.




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