Tuesday, August 2, 2011

20 million-year-old well preserved fossil skull: Ugandapithecus major

Map of Uganda showing the remote Karamoja region in the northeast of the country where a team of Ugandan and French paleontologists announced Tuesday they had found a 20-million-year-old ape skull, saying it could shed light on the region's evolutionary history. Illustration from PhysOrg.

A well preserved fossil skull of an ancient primate, Ugandapithecus major, has been excavated in the northeast region of Karamoja in Uganda (hence the genus name, Uganda monkey). The 20 million-year-old skull belongs to a male and probably died when it was about 10 years old, said researchers Pickford and Senut. The cranial size of Ugandapithecus major was about the same size as that of chimpanzees but its brain size is smaller. Ugandapithecus major is a tree-climbing catarrhine, an herbivore that lives around the Miocene. Although its genus name refers to it as a monkey, Ugandapithecus major is actually a hominoid (ape).

A well preserved skull of Ugandapithecus major. Photo from BBC News
The skull will be cleaned and prepared in France for about a year before returning it back to Uganda. Ugandapithecus major was described in 2000 by Senut et al. from a few dental and postcranial remains.

You can read Senut et al. (2000) A new genus of Early Miocene hominoid from East Africa: Ugandapithecus major (Le Gros Clark & Leakey, 1950) here (requires subscription).

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