20 million year old primate skull discovered in Uganda

This is our first, somewhat blurry look at Ugandapithecus major, a primate that lived in ancient Uganda 20 million years ago. It's one of the oldest primate fossils ever found, and it could hold crucial information about our evolutionary past.

The skull was discovered by a joint team of French and Uganda paleontologists in the country's Karamoja region, in the Northeast. Although it's still early days in terms of what we can learn about this primate, we do know that it was a tree-climbing herbivore, it was about as big as a chimpanzee but had a smaller brain, and it was about ten years old when it died all those eons ago.

Paleontologist Martin Pickford commented on his team's discovery:

"This is the first time that the complete skull of an ape of this age has been found ... it is a highly important fossil and it will certainly put Uganda on the map in terms of the scientific world."

To put the primate's age into some perspective, twenty million years ago long predates when our hominid ancestors became distinct from chimpanzees. Indeed, this primate appears to have lived right in the middle between the divergence of apes from Old World monkeys 25 million years ago, and the split of great apes (humans, chimps, gorillas, orangutans) from lesser apes like gibbons about 15 million years ago.

While we have a well-developed fossil record going back a few million years, our knowledge of our more distant ancestors is more patchy, and so the discovery of Ugandepithecus major is a huge step to filling in some of those gaps. The paleontologists explained that the skull will spend a year being cleaned, analyzed, and reconstructed in France before heading back to Uganda to be put on display.

Via Expatica.com and BBC News.