August 3, 2011

Paleontologists Unearth Ancient Ape Skull In Uganda

Ugandan and French paleontologists on Tuesday announced the discovery of a 20-million-year-old ape skull they had dug up at an extinct volcano in the northeastern Karamoja region of Uganda, saying the find could shed light on the region's evolutionary history.

The scientists say preliminary analysis shows the tree-climbing animal was around 10 years old when it perished.

The skull was found on July 18 while the team of paleontologists were looking for fossils around the extinct volcano.

"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," Martin Pickford, a paleontologist from the College de France in Paris, told Reuters in Kampala.

The skull belonged to a male Ugandapithecus Major, a possible cousin of today's great apes. The skull is about the same size as that of a chimpanzee, but its brain was smaller.

Bridgette Senut, a professor at the Musee National d'Histoire Naturelle, and a colleague of Pickford, said the remains would be taken to Paris to be x-rayed and documented before being returned to Uganda.

"It will be cleaned in France, it will be prepared in France and then in about one year's time it will be returned to the country," she told Reuters.

The French government has been funding expeditions to Uganda for the past 25 years. The remote and arid region of Karamoja is one of the least developed in Uganda. The arid plains there have been in recent years largely pacified following decades of insecurity linked to armed cattle raiding between nomad communities.

Uganda's junior minister for tourism, wildlife and heritage told BBC News the skull was a remote cousin of the Hominidea Fossil Ape.


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