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Toumai

Élisabeth Daynès

Jeongok Prehistory Museum

Jeongok Prehistory Museum

Found in the Djurab Desert in northern Chad, Central Africa, Toumai dates back some 6 or 7 million years, making it one of the oldest hominid fossils ever found. Fossils of the near-complete skull, fragments of jaw, and some teeth were discovered by the research team of Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers in 2001. Toumai, which means ‘hope of life’ in the local language of Chad, has the binomial name Sahelanthropus tchadensis. Toumai’s cranial features, including a braincase that is only a little bit smaller than that of the chimpanzee, a flatter (inclined) face, and heavy brow ridge, are similar to those of anthropoids. Its major characteristics are its small canines and the anterior foramen magnum, which is the hole through which the spinal cord exits the skull (providing anatomical evidence that Toumai was bipedal).
The Toumai fossils were discovered in the desert of Chad, Central Africa, which is 2,500 kilometers west of the Rift Valley, from which the previous earliest hominid fossils had been found, indicating that the settlements of the early archeoanthropine were more spread out than previously thought. It is assumed that Toumai ate leaves, fruits, seeds, root vegetables, and small insects. Although no postcranial remains (i.e. bones below the skull) have been discovered, it is estimated that they were similar to the chimpanzee. According to scholars, Toumai existed around 6 to 8 million years ago after the split of the human line from that of gorillas and chimpanzees, and is highly likely to be our oldest known human ancestor. Although many questions remain to be answered, Toumai is regarded as evidence of the progress of human revolution.

Place of Settlement: Republic of Chad
Period: 6-7 million years ago
Discovery Site: Toros-Menalla
Species: Sahelanthropus tchadensis
Nick-name: Toumai (‘hope of life’ in the local language)
Cranial Capacity: 320-380cc
Major Characteristics: Small canines and an anterior foramen magnum, (which is the hole through which the spinal cord exits the skull, providing anatomical evidence that Toumai was bipedal).

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