A monkeylike animal seen as an ancestor of monkeys, apes and humans was not as brainy as expected, according to scientists who analyzed its nicely preserved 29 million-year-old skull. The finding indicated that primate brain enlargement evolved later than once thought, the researchers said Monday.They analyzed a remarkably well-preserved fossilized skull of the little primate Aegyptopithecus zeuxis, which lived in the trees and ate fruit and leaves about 29 million yearsago in warm forests in what is now an Egyptian desert.A technique called microcomputerized tomography scanning — a computerized X-ray method also known as micro-CT — allowed them to determine the dimensions of the animal’s brain.
astonishing is how small this brain is,” Duke University primatologist
Elwyn Simons, who led the study published in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, said in a telephone interview.
“You can also see it’s a
pretty darn primitive brain.
It would be small for a monkey or an ape,”
Simons added. “So it’s telling us that the speed of achievement of
brain enlargement in primates was a little slower than perhaps we had
This skull of a small
female was uncovered in a quarry southwest of Cairo in 2004. It was
better preserved than another skull of a larger male of the species
found in the same area in 1966.
Based on earlier finds,
scientists had theorized the species had a relatively large brain.
Instead, it had a brain that might have been even smaller than that of
a modern lemur, a primate with primitive traits.
The condition of the earlier skull — “smashed up,” as Simons put it — prevented the analysis possible with the newer one.
Simons said that when this
primate lived, Africa was an island, limiting the competition for
survival. Simons said brain enlargement may have evolved in this
lineage after Africa became connected to Asia, bringing in more animals
including new and dangerouspreda......
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