We can say that it was long overdue… but the publication of this fossil so important for the history of humanity is excellent news. The “Toumai femur”, as we liked to call it because found at the same time as the skull of this probable ancestor of humanity, in July 2001, probably belongs to the same species. And the description of this specimen, in the review Nature August 25gives us an almost miraculous insight into how this primate that lived about seven million years ago got around.
When it was discovered in Chad, part of the scientific community considered Sahelanthropus tchadensis, its scientific name, as the closest common ancestor fossil we have with our closest cousins, chimpanzees and bonobos. Published in 2002, the study of the skull, and more particularly the position of the hole where his vertebral column was embedded, suggested that he probably walked regularly on two legs, which seemed to confirm other clues placing him among the ancestors of humanity, hominins. This was at least the hypothesis put forward by the head of the Franco-Chadian mission which had made the discovery, Michel Brunet, then at the University of Poitiers. But this argument alone was not enough to win support.
Twenty years later, the publication of this femur, as well as two ulnas (bones of the forearms), finally comes to support it. It is an understatement to say that she was expected. The existence of these fossils, known for a long time by the community of paleoanthropologists, and their non-publication fueled rumors and suspicions. A delay no doubt partly due to a false start: the femur not having been immediately classified as that of a hominin, it was entrusted in 2004 to a trainee before being ” correctly” identified by Roberto Macchiarelli, a paleontologist not part of the mission, as explained in the article, confirming the information of the World (January 29, 2018).
It is partly a new team which took over the study five years ago, led by Franck Guy and Guillaume Daver, from the Palevoprim laboratory in Poitiers. To everyone’s surprise, Michel Brunet did not wish to be a signatory. “I see it as a way of passing the baton to us, his successors in Poitiers, but also to our Chadian colleagues”comments paleontologist Jean-Renaud Boisserie, also a signatory.
Handover? “I didn’t ask myself the question”replies the interested party, who says he has not associated himself with the publication for “Keep your freedom of speech” on its findings. In this case, says Michel Brunet, “The article is excellent, it confirms – and I am proud of it – what we wrote in 2002: Toumaï is an arboreal biped”.
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