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Martin Pickford
The find is at least six million years old
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Monday, 4 December, 2000, 22:41 GMT
'Oldest' ape-man fossils unearthed

The hominid was about the size of a chimpanzee
French and Kenyan scientists have unearthed what they believe to be the oldest remains of a hominid, or ape-man, ever found.

Although the fossils themselves have not been dated, the rock in which they were discovered is known to be six million years old.

The Kenya Palaeontology Expedition (KPE) said body parts belonging to at least five individuals, both male and female, had been recovered.

These included an almost perfectly fossilised left femur showing the hominid had strong back legs which enabled it to walk upright - a characteristic which relates the creature directly to man.

"Not only is this find older than any other previously known, it is also in a more advanced stage of evolution," KPE palaeontologist Dr Martin Pickford told a news conference in Nairobi.

Chimpanzee size

The first specimens were unearthed on 25 October at Kapsomin in the Tugen hills in Kenya's Baringo district.

Other body fragments include pieces of jaw with teeth, isolated upper and lower teeth, arm bones and a finger bone.

"Preliminary studies of the arm and finger bones reveal that the Kapsomin hominid was an agile climber in the trees, whereas its leg bones indicate that when it was on the ground it walked on two legs," the KPE said in a statement.

"The teeth indicate that the species probably subsisted on hard-skinned fruits among the other foods ... The canines are reduced when compared with those of apes, but are larger than those of modern humans," it added.

Dr Brigitte Senut, a team member from the Museum of Natural History in Paris, said the creature was about the size of a modern chimpanzee.

Cat kill

Pickford and Senut said they were confident the team would unearth even more remains that could help form a near-perfect picture of the hominid.

"We are just going to publish our initial findings, to get the excitement, and continue with our work," Dr Pickford said. "I am sure there is still a lot more out there - possibly even older."

Fossil parts of other species found at the same site hint at a rich variety of fauna and flora.

The KPE statement noted that the leg bones "had been chewed, indicating that the individuals to which they belonged probably fell prey to a large carnivore".

Pickford said: "It looks like he was killed and eaten by some sort of carnivore, probably a cat. It was probably dragged up a tree to the cat's usual eating place and then bits fell into the water below."

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