Alesi, the skull of the new extinct ape species Nyanzapithecus alesi (KNM-NP 59050). Copyright: Fred Spoor
Origin Stories Season Two | Episode One | Ancestor
Just recently, the news media announced the discovery of a fossil ape called Alesi. This remarkable fossil was found in Kenya, and it’s from a time period where there’s a big blank spot in the fossil record of our family tree. This 13 million-year-old fossil tells us something new about the very early evolution of apes and even shows what the common ancestor of us and all the other living apes might have looked like. This episode tells the story behind the discovery.
3D animation of the Alesi skull computed from the ESRF microtomographic data. It shows first the skull in solid 3D rendering, then transparent surface rendering is used to show the endocast shape (light blue), the internal ears (green), and the permanent teeth germs (grey and brown). © Paul Tafforeau / ESRF
- Discovery site at Napudet, west of Lake Turkana, Kenya. The red flag marks where Alesi was found. © Isaiah Nengo.
- Akai Ekes and John Ekusi watch as Isaiah Nengo lifts the sandstone block with Alesi after six hours of excavation. © Isaiah Nengo
- Cyprian Nyete (left) and Isaiah Nengo (right) excavating Alesi using fine picks and brushes, as well as a hardener to protect the fossil bone. © Isaiah Nengo.
- Alesi partially excavated after careful removal of loose sand and rocks with dental picks and brushes
- Field crew of the Turkana Basin Institute when Alesi was discovered at Napudet in September 2014. From Left to right: Abdala Ekuon, John Ekusi, Isaiah Nengo, Bernard Ewoi, Akai Ekes, and Cyprian Nyete. © Isaiah Nengo.
- Alesi after attached sandstone rock was partially removed at the Turkana Basin Insitute, near Lodwar, Kenya.
- Alesi, the skull of the new extinct ape species Nyanzapithecus alesi (KNM-NP 59050). © Fred Spoor
- Experimental setup at the European Synchrotron Radiation facility used for the high resolution X-ray scanning of Alesi. The skull is mounted on a rotation stage in front of the detector, and a laser beam is used for accurate alignment. © Paul Tafforeau
- Map of Africa and Kenya, showing the location of Napudet, where Alesi was found. © Isaiah Nengo
New 13 million-year-old infant skull sheds light on ape ancestry
Questions and answers about Alesi
New infant cranium from the African Miocene sheds light on ape evolution. Nengo, I., Tafforeau, P., Gilbert, C.C., Fleagle, J.G.., Miller, E.R., Feibel, C., Fox, D., Feinberg, J., Pugh, K.D., Berruyer, C., Mana, S., Engle, Z. and Spoor, F. Nature 10 August 2017. doi:10.1038/nature23456.
Editor Julia Barton
Series Producer Meredith Johnson
Associate Producer Shuka Kalantari
Sound Design Katie McMurran
Theme Music Henry Nagle
Intern Yuka Oiwa
Additional Music Lee Rosevere