Researchers have for the first time looked at the brain of Victoriopithecus through a computer. Victoriopithecus is the oldest known Old World monkey fossil that lived about 15 million years ago. The skull was discovered in Lake Victoria (Kenya) in 1997. The paper was published in the journal Nature Communications.
After creating the first detailed visualization of the monkey’s brain Researchers from Duke University in collaboration with investigators from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have discovered that it had a small, but complex brain. The scientists developed a 3D representation of the cranial cavity of the Victoriopithecus using high-resolution X-ray imaging. After analysis they noted that primate brains could have had a structure full of wrinkles even before they grew in size.
The brain of the monkey was around 2.2 cubic inches which means it was quite tiny compared to their body size. Moreover it was half the size of the brain of nowadays monkeys that have the similar body size. It is as if comparing a plum to an orange.
However in spite of the fact that the brain was small researchers also discovered that it was complex. Researchers observed that the olfactory bulb of the Victoriapithecus was three times larger than the size which is normally expected. This suggests that the monkey had a better sense of small than the monkeys that we now today.
Lauren Gonzales from Duke University explained:
“In living higher primates you find the opposite: the brain is very big, and the olfactory bulb is very small, presumably because as their vision got better their sense of smell got worse. But instead of a tradeoff between smell and sight, Victoriapithecus might have retained both capabilities.”
Study co-author Brenda Benefit from New Mexico State University said that this skull is one of the only clues researchers have about the evolution of the early brain. The findings of this study indeed offer insight into how primate brains evolved over time especially in a period when there are not many fossils available.
Gonzales also remarked that in the primate family tree which includes both humans and apes brains first of all got bigger and afterwards became more complex and folded. However she noted that this study clearly shows that the order of events was reversed. The brains were first of all complex and grew bigger afterwards.
Image Source: biology-forums.com