New infant cranium from the African Miocene sheds light on ape evolution

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Abstract

The evolutionary history of extant hominoids (humans and apes) remains poorly understood. The African fossil record during the crucial time period, the Miocene epoch, largely comprises isolated jaws and teeth, and little is known about ape cranial evolution. Here we report on the, to our knowledge, most complete fossil ape cranium yet described, recovered from the 13 million-year-old Middle Miocene site of Napudet, Kenya. The infant specimen, KNM-NP 59050, is assigned to a new species of Nyanzapithecus on the basis of its unerupted permanent teeth, visualized by synchrotron imaging. Its ear canal has a fully ossified tubular ectotympanic, a derived feature linking the species with crown catarrhines. Although it resembles some hylobatids in aspects of its morphology and dental development, it possesses no definitive hylobatid synapomorphies. The combined evidence suggests that nyanzapithecines were stem hominoids close to the origin of extant apes, and that hylobatid-like facial features evolved multiple times during catarrhine evolution.

Description of the most complete fossil skull of an infant ape recovered from the Miocene epoch of Kenya, assigned to a new species in the genus Nyanzapithecus.

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