Toumaï walked well 7 million years ago, but not only

Toumaï, the oldest representative of mankind, walked well on two legs seven million years ago. But he can still climb trees and, according to a study in Nature, can rest on three bones belonging to a representative of his species.

The story begins in Doros-Menalla, in northern Chad, when a team from the Franco-Saadian paleoanthropological mission discovered the skull in 2001. Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Toumaï for those close to him, outstrips Orrorin tugenensis, six million years old and discovered in Kenya, the oldest representative of mankind.

The position of the foramen magnum in Tumai’s skull, with a vertebral column located under the skull and not behind the quadrupeds, places it as a bipedal primate. A few experts dispute this conclusion and argue that the fossil is incomplete.

Bipedal walking is the preferred mode of transport

The study by researchers from PALEVOPRIM, the Evolutionary Laboratory of the University of Poitiers, CNRS and Chadian academics makes a decisive contribution to this discovery.

“The skull tells us that Sahelanthropus was part of the human lineage,” paleoanthropologist and one of the study’s authors, Frank Guy, explained Tuesday. The latter, “bipedalism is his preferred mode of locomotion, depending on the situation,” he added during a press conference.

“A Little Lumber”

This bipedal gait was “common, but not limited to arboreal locomotion”. A Hypothetical Common Ancestor of the Human Line and the Legacy of Chimpanzees.

The team demonstrates this through a detailed study of the femur and the ulna, two bones of the forearm. We may never know whether the bones belonged to Toumay as an individual, but were found at the same site and belonged to a hominin, the human line, similar to him.

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A battery of tests

The scientists of the Franco-Saadian mission studied them for several years, with a complete battery of tests and measurements. They identified 23 morphological and functional traits, before comparing them to other species and fossil hominins and great apes.

Their conclusion is that “this set of traits is much closer to what we see in hominins than in other animals,” Guillaume Daver, a paleontologist in the PALEVOPRIM team and first author of the study, said during a press conference. .

For example, a gorilla or chimpanzee, a close relative of modern man, leans forward on the back of the phalanx of its hand in the four-form pattern, which is not observed in Sahelanthropus.

Forests and wet savanna

The bones of the person thus examined weighed between 43 and 50 kg. The barren desert landscape today consists of mixed forest with his remains, palm groves and humid savannah in his time. A structure favorable to both walking and “warning” is quadruped foliage.

The study provides “a complete picture of Toumaï and finally of the first humans,” National Museum of Natural History paleoanthropologist Antoine Balzeau told AFP, hailing the “very substantial” work.

“Shrub” evolution

This brings additional arguments to proponents of “bushy” evolution, with many branches, “against the simplistic picture of humans following each other, with skills that improve over time,” Mr. Balcio notes. .

According to the PALEVOPRIM researchers, Sahelanthropus transformed man into a human, according to the PALEVOPRIM researchers, stressing the importance of not seeing humanity as a “magical trait” that defines a strict way.

In an article accompanying the study, Daniel Lieberman, a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard, believes that the study still does not provide a “conclusive solution” to the question of Toomai’s nature.

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The PALEVOPRIM team intends to resume its research in Chad next spring, with “safety clearance,” Mr. Guy said. That’s because teams at the site are “trying to find sites older than Douma,” as Clarice Nekolnong, a Chadian paleontologist at the National Center for Research and Development, points out.

This article was published automatically. Sources: ats / afp

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