A fossilised, battle-scarred skull belonging to a previously unknown species of primate has been unearthed that sheds light on the evolutionary origins of apes, including humans.
The remains, which include a partial skull and teeth, were recovered from ironstone sediment during an expedition to the site in February 2009, but only now has a detailed description of the fossil been published.
Iyad Zalmout, lead author of the study, spotted the damaged skull of Saadanius lying upside down in the sediment with its teeth glinting in the sun.
Serious wounds on the front of the skull suggest the creature met a violent end. "He got in the way of a big carnivore and died in a horrible way," Zalmout said. "The puncture marks in the skull suggest he was seized by the head, got chewed around a bit, and was then thrown away."
Brenda Benefit, professor of biological anthropology at New Mexico State University, said: "For me this discovery is one of the most significant in my lifetime. Until now we have not had a very perfect fossil ancestor for the Old World monkeys and apes."
"Some palaeontologists, inlcuding myself, thought that this is exactly what the common ancestor to Old World monkeys and apes would look like, based on resemblances between Miocene fossil Old World monkeys and apes, whereas others thought they would be shorter snouted and more round-headed like modern gibbons.
"Saadanius resolves this debate and demonstrates the importance of the fossil record for knowing what our ancestors looked like."