A team of researchers from Duke University analyzed the fossilized skull of a 15-million-year-old monkey and what they found took them by surprise. According to their findings, the brain of the prehistoric monkey was well-defined and although it was small, it was more complex than the brain of its descendants. The researchers believe the recent findings could shed new light on the evolution of the human species, especially on the evolution of the human brain.
The fossilized remains of the 15-million-year-old monkey were unearthed in Kenya, in 1997, and until now scientists didn’t know too much about it. The prehistoric monkey is called Victoriapithecus and belongs to the Old World family of primates, which is known as an evolutionary branch of primates that includes species of monkeys like the modern baboon and macaque.
The anthropologists believe the ancient monkey, which was found in the Lake Victoria, Kenya, lived more than 15 million years ago.
Lauren Gonzales, researcher at Duke University, explained they analyzed the monkey skull using Micro-CT scans to determine the size of the brain in relation to the body. According to the analysis, the volume of the brain was 36 cubic cm. The scientists said that the brain of modern monkeys is twice as big, compared to the ancient animal.
However, despite its size, the brain of the Victoriapithecus monkey was surprisingly complex. Aside from having many folds and wrinkles, the researchers also found that the olfactory bulb of its brain, which is the part responsible for analyzing smell, was much larger than it was expected.
Gonzales explained in her study that the prehistoric monkey had better smell than most primates living today. In modern monkeys it’s quite the opposite: the olfactory bulb is smaller, while the brain is large. The scientists assume this is because the monkeys’ sight got better in time, while their sense of smell worsened.
After analyzing the brain of the ancient monkey, the researchers believe the Victoriapithecus had very advanced sense of smell and vision.
The scientists detailed their findings on the brain complexity of the 15-million-year-old monkey in the journal Nature.
The recent discovery helps the researchers better understand how the cognitive functions developed in early primates. It also offers new clues on the complexity of the monkeys’ brain in relation to their brain size. Very little is known about the Old World primate due to the lack of fossils, the experts stated.
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