" Toumaï the Human Ancestor "



The amazing fossil material discovered by the M.P.F.T. (1) (a nearly complete cranium, two lower jaw fragments and three isolated teeth), and described by Michel Brunet and his colleagues in the last issue of the journal Nature (2), is assigned to a new hominid, new genus new species, nicknamed Toumaï (3).
The new hominid, recovered from the late Miocene of Toros-Menalla (Djurab desert, northern Chad), is associated with a fauna the evolutionary level of which indicates a biochronological age close to 7 million years ago (4). The fauna is composed of aquatic and amphibious vertebrates, and also species inhabiting gallery forest, wooded savanna and grassland. Sedimentological data are in agreement with this mosaic of environments, showing a vegetated perilacustrine belt between lake and desert (4).
The new hominid displays a unique combination of primitive and derived characters suggesting a close relationship to the last common ancestor between Humans and Chimpanzees suggesting him as a likely ancestor of all later hominids. The geographic location of Toumaï, 2500 km west of the Rift Valley, and his great antiquity suggest an early pan African distribution of hominids (at least from 6 million years ago) and an earlier chimpanzee-human divergence (at least as early as 7 million years ago) than previously indicated by most of the molecular studies.

  (1) The Mission Paléoanthropologique Franco Tchadienne (Professor Michel Brunet, Dr.), a scientific collaboration between the University of Poitiers, the University of N'Djamena and the Centre National d'Appui à la Recherche (C.N.A.R., N'Djamena) includes forty scientists from ten countries. The M.P.F.T. leads an international and interdisciplinary research program on "early hominid origin and environments".

(2) Michel Brunet and M.P.F.T. (2002) A new hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad, Central Africa. Nature.

(3) In the Djurab desert, babies born before the dry season are named Toumaï. This name has been suggested as a vernacular name for the new hominid by the highest Chadian authorities, it means "hope of life" in Goran language.

(4) Patrick Vignaud et al (2002) Geology and Palaeontology of the Upper Miocene Toros-Menalla hominid locality, Djurab Desert, Northern Chad. Nature.

The Toumaï discovery