Meet the relative: man's earliest ancestor lived 7 million years ago

An ape-like creature who lived about 7 million years ago is almost certainly the earliest-known ancestor of humans, according to a study that could shed light on the identity of "Chad Man".

An ape-like creature who lived about 7 million years ago is almost certainly the earliest-known ancestor of humans, according to a study that could shed light on the identity of "Chad Man".

The discovery of the creature's fossilised remains in northern Chad in 2001 was hailed as the most important for 75 years as it appeared the remains had uniquely human traits.

Sceptics questioned whether the species was a hominid or an early ape, perhaps a female gorilla, but the scientists who made the original discovery say they have now found further fossils of Sahelanthropus tchadensis which confirms it as the earliest known ancestor of humans.

They have also performed a computer reconstruction of the creature's face which indicates that its features were more human than ape-like and suggest that it walked upright.

Professor Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers said that Chad Man, nicknamed Toumai, which means "hope for life" in the local Goran language, possessed a unique combination of primitive ape-like features and more modern human traits.

Details of the new fossils - a jawbone and teeth - as well as the computer reconstruction of his face, are published today in the journal Nature . They suggest that Toumai lived soon after the human lineage diverged from the last common ancestor of man and chimpanzee, Professor Brunet said.

"[It] might have been an upright biped, suggesting bipedalism was present in the earliest known hominids, and probably soon after the divergence of the chimpanzee and human lineages," he said.

A graduate student at the University of N'Djamena in Chad, Ahounta Djimdoubmalbaye, found Toumai's fossilised skull in the Djurab desert in July 2001.

Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said in 2002 that the creature's brain size and skull shape were like an ape's but it had a flatter, more human, face and small teeth. However, others, notably Professor Milford Wolpoff, of the University of Michigan, said the skull was not human at all and more likely to be the head of a female ape. "Toumai may be a common ancestor of apes and humans, but it is not on the line directly leading to humans," Professor Wolpoff said.

When found, Toumai's skull had been squashed, but computer scans had enabled the researchers to produce a virtual, three-dimensional reconstruction of the creature's skull.

They found that the angle between the base of the skull, where the spinal cord enters the braincase, and the front plane of the face was similar to modern humans, and quite different to chimps and other apes which walk on all fours.

Toumai's fossils were found alongside the bones of many extinct animals such as three-toed horses, large wild boars, crocodiles and hippos, which have been dated accurately to living between 6 million and 7 million years ago.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'