National Geographic : 1963 Jan
skull from the plane," she told me later. "I had to go up and down that ladder with Pro consul several times before they were satisfied. "Then I took our parcel to a room set aside in the airport for the press conference. Every one crowded around to question me, and I displayed the skull on the table. Two plain clothes detectives assigned to guard it never let it out of their sight." At the University of Oxford, Professor Clark agreed with us that the skull rep resented Proconsul africanus, and he was greatly impressed. Mary's discovery gave science the first opportunity to see what Proconsul had really looked like. Without the precious skull we could say very little about this important stage of primate devel opment, for previously we had only jaws and teeth to go on. Here at last was the evidence we needed to place Proconsul in relation to man and the apes. Proconsul Illuminates Human Beginnings What did the skull tell us? It revealed that in a number of characteristics, such as a markedly rounded forehead, Proconsul was more like man than like the apes; yet in other characteristics, such as long, pointed canine teeth, it more closely resembled the apes. From the total evidence that the skull and other specimens provided, most anthropol ogists conclude that Proconsul represents neither ape nor man, but something that shares characteristics with both. We believe, therefore, that at some stage just about the time of Proconsul, the stock that ultimately led to man broke away from Proconsul himself or from something much like him, and gradually led to you and me. Just when this happened we cannot say. We shall never be able to point to a specific time and a particular creature and say: "Here man began." The whole subject of human de velopment is far too complex for that. But each new discovery sheds fresh light on man's obscure beginnings. Such a discovery was Proconsul africanus. And such a discovery is our new Kenyapithecus wickeri. I said that Kenyapithecus wickeri filled a major gap in our knowledge of man's devel opment, and we can now see where that gap existed. It is the long period between Procon sul, with its related stock, of some 25 to 40 million years ago, and the Olduvai creatures represented by Zinjanthropus and the pre Zinj child, who lived a little less than two million years ago. Until the discovery of Kenyapithecus, we 138 had literally no information from Africa about any stage of man in that vast stretch of time. There were only a few fossils elsewhere in the world from that period, and those all led in the direction of apes, not of man. Now at last we have Kenyapithecus, which lived some 14 million years ago, and we are beginning to explore our gap. Kenyapithecus was not-emphatically not -a man. Our Zinjanthropus and pre-Zinj child may qualify for that description be cause their remains are found among stone tools. At Fort Ternan, where Kenyapithecus was discovered, there are no tools of any kind. But, though the Fort Ternan fossil fragments are few, they do tell us that here is a creature leading straight in man's direction. How do we know? Turn to the photograph on page 135, and you will see a fragment of upper jaw that we found. Precious little evi dence to work with, one may say. But an anatomist would disagree.