A recently discovered 15-million-year-old monkey skull reveals primates’ brain complexity after scientists studied its bone structure with X-rays. They have, thus discovered that the Victoriapithecus species of primates were much cleverer than it was initially believed and their smell sense was highly developed.
Scientists at Department of Evolutionary Anthropology from the Max Plank Institute have recently subjected a 15-million-year-old monkey skull to a series of tests. The skull was first discovered in 1997, but scientists believed there were still many useful pieces of information they could withdraw if they used the proper means of investigation.
As a consequence, researchers used an X-ray based program to reproduce the brain of the primates. The computer-generated images indicated that monkeys belonging to the Victoriapithecus species had a very small brain. Its volume was estimated at approximately 36 cubic centimeters, that is, a lot smaller than the brain of other primates.
Fred Spoor, co-author of the study, has used the comparison between a plum and an orange to better illustrate the size difference between the two brains. Nevertheless, the scientist has concluded that the Victoriapithecus brain was incredibly complex in spite of its reduced size.
Further 3D representations of the brain have also suggested that brain presented many wrinkles and folds. Moreover, the olfactory bulb, which is responsible for smell perception and interpretation was almost three times bigger than scientists initially believed.
Based on this new finding, researchers were able to conclude that Victoriapithecus exemplars had a highly developed smell sense. By comparing the 15-million-year-old skull to the brain structure of modern apes, Spoor and colleagues have noticed that living apes have a much bigger brain.
Modern day apes are said to have grown their brains larger as their vision got better. In turn, their olfactory bulb is now much smaller, showing that primates can no longer smell as well as they did in their ancient times.
Even though monkeys belonging to modern species traded their smelling sense for an improved vision, Spoor believes Victoriapithecus are different. He is convinced that these exemplars have maintained both an accurate vision and smelling sense, based on the information he has obtained through X-ray analyses.
The new study proves that brains don’t necessarily have to be big in order to be complex. Previous studies conducted on an 18,000-year-old human skull have strengthened this belief because in spite of their small brains, Homo floresiensis were still capable of carrying out many complex activities such as lightening fire and procuring food.
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