- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

An ancient skull whose recent discovery was thought to have pushed back the dawn of man was not from a human ancestor after all, but from a gorilla or another ape species, some anthropologists say.
The response, published in today's issue of the journal Nature, is the latest round in a scientific feud over the origins of humankind in Africa.
The so-called Toumai skull, whose discovery was announced in July, was unearthed last year in the African desert nation of Chad. Some described it as the most startling fossil find in decades. The remarkably intact specimen has a thick brow and flat face, and is believed to be between 6 million and 7 million years old.
The research team that found it, led by French paleontologist Michel Brunet, said it was a skull of the earliest known hominid, or pre-human ancestor. Until then, hominids were not known to have lived so deeply in Central Africa.
But in a strongly worded article in Nature, anthropologists including Brigette Senut, Milford H. Wolpoff and Martin Pickford said the skull is not on the human branch of the evolutionary tree at all.
They said the specimen may be that of an early female gorilla or a chimpanzee, or a species that has since become extinct.
"I don't see how you can tell what it is. But it is not human," said Mr. Wolpoff, a University of Michigan anthropologist.
The critics took special note of scars on the bones in the back of the skull left by the attachment of neck muscles. To some, those might indicate that it was a biped, or upright walker a critical defining feature of the human family. But Mr. Wolpoff and others disagree.
"In looking at the scars, they told us quite clearly that this animal did not habitually walk erect. It did not have human posture, therefore it is not human," Mr. Wolpoff said.

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