A group of researchers were able to discover fossils of a Papio angusticeps, one of the earliest baboon species in Malapa, South Africa.

The new partial cranium specimen named as the UW 88-886 is a representation of the sole non-hominin primate ever found in Malapa and thus is a great contributory element to the understanding of baboon evolution and the biochronology of hominin species in South Africa. These fossils may also give an insight into the modern anatomical properties of baboons and is linked quite flawlessly with the date approximates for molecular divergence of the modern Papio hamadryas radiation. Because the specimen is estimated to be between ~2.026-2.36 million years, researchers may also gain some valuable information regarding the biochronology of other South African Plio-Pleistocene areas.

The UV 88-886 is placed at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa. The researchers gathered data for their observations by utilizing digital clippers and plotting the measurements according to the nearest tenth of a millimeter. Comparative assessments and measurements were also performed from the PRIMO database, high-quality casts and other datasets provided by supporters.

As per analysis of preserved morphology, the scientists found that the UW 88-886 is presumably a male and possesses similar qualities to the South African taxon P. angusticeps. The specimen has an anteorbital drop, a lengthy and narrow muzzle, completely formed maxillary ridges and deep maxillary fossae. The tall mallar area of the specimen further creates a notable distinction from other Plio-Pleistocene Papio species and a striking resemblance to the P. angusticeps and modern P. hamadryas subspecies.

P. hamadryas subspecies or what is referred to as the modern baboons serve as a symbol of the most prosperous primate radiations across the Arabian Peninsula and the sub-Saharan Africa. Although these species are often linked to outstanding evolutionary records, their origins are not thoroughly established.

"Baboons are known to have co-existed with hominins at several fossil localities in East Africa and South Africa," says Dr Christopher Gilbert, the study lead author. These fossils are sometimes used as models to compare the evolutionary phenomenon of humans.

The study was published in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) One.

Photo: Chi King | Flickr

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