3D Printing helps teach anthroplogy from Ancient infant ape skull

Ancient infant ape skull sheds light on the ancestor of all humans and living apes
Anthropologists have waited decades to find the complete cranium of a Miocene ape from Africa—one that lived in the hazy period before the human lineage split off from the common ancestors we share with chimpanzees some 7 million years ago. Now, scientists in Kenya have found their prize at last: an almost perfectly preserved skull roughly the size of a baseball. The catch? It’s from an infant. That means that although it can give scientists a rough idea of what the common ancestor to all living apes and humans would have looked like, drawing other meaningful conclusions could be challenging.

“This is the sort of thing that the fossil record loves to do to us,” says James Rossie, a biological anthropologist at the State University of New York in Stony Brook who wasn’t involved with the study. “The problem is that we learn from fossils by comparing them to others. When there are no other infant Miocene ape skulls to which to make those comparisons, your hands are tied.”

See Dr. Isaiah Nengo talk about his discovery on local news using 3D Printed version of orginal scan data.

Supersensitive x-ray scanning revealed the infant ape

Supersensitive x-ray scanning revealed the infant ape’s age at death.

Extremely sensitive x-ray imaging performed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, allowed the team to count growth lines in the fossil’s unerupted adult teeth like tree rings, telling them Alesi was about 485 days (or 1 year and 4 months) old when it died. The x-rays also revealed the presence of bony ear tubes in the skull, which act as a balance organ. Primatologists have long debated whether the Nyanzapithecus genus belonged to the ape or monkey line, but the presence of these tubes, combined with the size and shape of the teeth, solidly mark Alesi—and by extension the other nyanzapithecines—as apes, the researchers report today in Nature. What’s more, they claim, the ear tubes present strong evidence that it’s an evolutionary cousin to the ancestral line of apes from which humans and living apes derive.

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