Zalmout had to leave the skull where he found it---he had a schedule to adhere to, and he knew that properly collecting the primate fossil would take days. For the next few days he couldn't stop thinking about the fossil, worried that a wandering camel or goat would trample it before he could return. Eventually, he was able to excavate the site and bring the fossil to U-M for preparation and study.
The Saadanius skull should help resolve an ongoing debate about the facial anatomy of the ancestral stock of apes and Old World monkeys, said Laura MacLatchy, an associate professor of anthropology who worked with Zalmout, Gingerich, assistant research scientist William Sanders and associate research scientist Gregg Gunnell to interpret the find. One view is that the oldest common ancestor's face was like that of modern gibbons: dainty and button-nosed. Alternatively, the ancestor may have had a baboon-like, long snout, like that of the oldest true apes and monkeys. The Saadanius fossil supports the second hypothesis, MacLatchy said.
Also of interest is the tympanic bone, a part of the skull that surrounds the ear drum. In Aegyptopithecus this bone is ring-shaped, but in Saadanius it's a tubular outgrowth like that of apes and Old World monkeys.
"That tells us that Saadanius is probably closely related to catarrhines at the base of the ape-monkey split," MacLatchy said.
Commenting on the significance, SGS vice-president for technical affairs Abdulla Al-Attas said, "This is a very unique and smart discovery that we do not encounter every day. We have to keep the geological and paleontological investigation running at the SGS so we can have more promising and encouraging discoveries and exciting stories about the geological history of this country."
SGS president Zoh
|Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan|
University of Michigan