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A fossilised skull between 6 and 7 million years old, representing the earliest known record of the human family, has been found in Chad in Central Africa.

The new find — discovered by an international team led by Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers in France and nicknamed 'Toumaï' — comes from the crucial, yet little-known, interval when the human lineage was becoming distinct from that of chimpanzees.

Because of this, the discovery is likely to stir up the field of human origins like no other in living memory — perhaps not since 1925, when Raymond Dart described the first 'ape-man', Australopithecus africanus. A lifetime later, Toumaï raises the stakes once again and the consequences cannot yet be guessed.

Link to Nature’s special feature: 'Toumaï', the face of the deep (includes free access to original research papers)

Picture credit: M.P.F.T.