The researchers found oldest fossilized specimen of baboons which have been said to co-exist with earlier species of human beings.
The caves of Malapa has been an abundant reservoir. These caves turning up archaeological treasures over the years. rliest caves based in Africa. The caves have been the site to find some of the earliest fossilized remains of earlier human species. And other specimens are also there.
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Recently, the caves coughed up another unique specimen. Researchers found from the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. It is the same site where the partial skeletons of the new early hominin species discovered. Termed Australopithecus sediba, these were discovered in 2010.
"Baboons are known to have co-existed with hominins at several fossil localities in East Africa and South Africa and they are sometimes even used as comparative models in human evolution," says Dr Christopher Gilbert (Hunter College, CUNY), lead author of the study.
The earliest specimen of baboon that is as old as 2 million years. The earliest baboon fossil specimen was a partial cranium. The skull, found during excavations was for A. sediba.
This confirms earlier suggestions. It belongs to fossil baboon species termed Papio angusticeps. It was established that these species were in fact closely related to modern baboons. And quite possibly the earliest known members of the modern baboon species Papio hamadryas.
The researchers have described it as the only non-hominin fossil to be recovered in the Malapa Cave location. The findings were published in the PLOS journal. The researchers admit that finding the fossil doesn’t come as a total surprise.
One of the researchers noted that baboons and hominin species have co-existed at various points in history. The signs of which are evident in several fossil finds in Africa. The earliest baboon specimen had some indicative anatomical similarities with the modern baboon.
This discovery makes a great contribution to the overall baboon evolution in South Africa. It will help science gauge the point in time when the modern baboon began to mark its appearance with a better timeline.
The divergence of the baboons of the past era began to the modern baboons of today around 1.8 to 2.2 million years ago. That is around the same time the new fossil was estimated to be.
"According to molecular clock studies, baboons are estimated to have diverged from their closest relatives by ~1.8 to 2.2 million years ago; however, until now, most fossil specimens known within this time range have been either too fragmentary to be definitive or too primitive to be confirmed as members of the living species Papio hamadryas," says Gilbert.
"The specimen from Malapa and our current analyses help to confirm the suggestion of previous researchers that P. angusticeps may, in fact, be an early population of P. hamadryas."
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This new earliest baboon specimen does not contribute to what is known about the human ancestry and evolution. But it marks another find in the cave’s book.