Authenticity of tiny Tafilalet skull confirmed
lundi 19 juin 2006
By Susan Searight-Martinet | Morocco TIMES
6/14/2006 | 10:12 am
A minute skull, discovered by a young amateur palaeontologist last July near Erfoud, in south-western Morocco, on a site well-known for its fossils of orthoceres and goniatites, has been recognized as authentic by scientists who have examined it, reported Tuesday MAP news agency.
It is an authentic skull and not a fabricated object affirmed Dr Alaoui Abdeklader, radiologist and director of the Moulay Ali Chrif hospital, after having carried out an X-ray scanner examination.
The skull, with a circumference of 18.4 cm, is no bigger than an apple. It was discovered on a geological level known as the Devonian. This period dates to about 360 million years ago - which gives an idea of its possible age.
The results are fascinating and I’m really astonished at the biological plasticity of this skull, declared Dr Alaoui. The information coming from the scan is in conformity with the bone density values, he added.
I believe that this skull still hides some surprises, he said, referring to the eventual fossilization of the brain. The images from the scanner, which show a special architecture and a very feeble density, give rise to hopes of finding a fossilized brain and not a banal natural endocranial cast, he maintained.
When announcing his discovery, Mohamed Zarouit, teacher and amateur palaeontologist, had suggested that the fossilized skull belonged to the genus Homo (today’s humans belong to this family, but to a much more advanced member : Homo sapiens sapiens). According to Zarouit, the little-used wisdom teeth indicated that the skull belonged to an adult.
He pointed out that the skull has the characteristics of the genre Homo, indicated by the position of the occipital hole (in the middle), the jaw (short, parabolic), the symphysic angle (obtuse, set back), the forehead (high and rounded, as the back of the skull) and the dental formula (estimated at 32 teeth, inserted vertically). A preliminary study by Zarouit had been published in the scientific journal Bipédia on line N° 25. Bipédia is published by the Study and Research Centre for Initial Bipedalism.
Questioned by MAP news agency on the process used for dating the specimen, Zarouit explained that he had based it on a biochronological dating process (relative age). This method, he added, had been adopted to date the famous Sahelanthropus tchadensis skull (6-7 million years), which had also been found on the present-day surface with no geological connection.
This latter skull, found by a member of the team led by Michel Brunet in July 2001 and known as Toumai, is as yet the oldest known hominid.
Interested by the subject, Eddahby Lhou, researcher in applied geology and member of the Research Group in Applied Geology (GRGA) in the Faculty of Sciences and Techniques of Errachidia, indicated that a topographical and stratigraphical study of the site as well as a detailed recording of the associated fauna will shortly be announced.
Eddahby underlined, however, the need to link the studies on the skull under discussion with the archaeological excavations undertaken on the site of Sijilmassa. This town, now in ruins, was once the most important caravan centre in the Tafilalet.
If the age and identification of the Erfoud skull is confirmed, this will make it the oldest hominid found in Morocco. So far, the oldest human remains come from the Casablanca quarry of Oulad Hadou, where part of a human jaw and isolated teeth are dated to around 450,000 years.
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