Early Human Ancestor Disproved?

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After all, no one knows what evidence may still linger beneath African ground.

"It's quite possible that we haven't looked in the right places or that the sediments that would have preserved that portion of the fossil record no longer exist," said Williams, of Duke University, who was not involved in the study.

But she does agree that Tabuce and colleagues' research weakens the case for an African origin.

(Related: "Oldest Skeleton of Human Ancestor Found.")

Toothcomb Technicality

Algeripithecus fossils were first found in 1992 by researchers from France's University of Montpellier at the Glib Zegdou site in northeastern Algeria.

The French team has continued to unearth new, and more Algeripithecus fossils, notably skull fragments and jawbones, some nearly complete.

(Related: "Flying Lemurs Are Primates' Closest Kin.")

The jaw and skull of Algeripithecus lack classic features of anthropoids, which include monkeys, apes, and humans, according to the study, published in the September 9 issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Instead, Algeripithecus's jawbone has a long, thin formation, which the study says is "entirely compatible" with a "toothcomb," comblike lower front teeth used for grooming—common in strepsirhines, including modern lemurs.

Despite the new evidence, Algeripithecus is still a crucial figure in early primate evolution—but instead as one of the oldest known examples of a crown strepsirhine, the study says.

Duke's Williams said the study's findings are helpful for scientists tracing how apes became human.

The new study, she added, does "focus our attention on Asia"—though it's impossible to say yet if apes originated there.

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