Remains of what is believed to be the oldest fossil ever discovered on Earth has been returned to Uganda. The fossil was discovered by a joint team of Ugandan and French scientists last year on July 18th 2012 at Napak, near mount Moroto, in Karamoja, North Eastern Uganda and is called Uganda pithecus Major.

This is the oldest, most complete ape fossil ever to be discovered on Earth and is believed to be aged between 19 and 20 million years. He has been returned after spending about a year in the French capital Paris where the skull fragments discovered were used to make a reconstruction of what the skull may have looked like.

Dr. Martin Pickford, a member of the team that discovered the fossil said that it could not be reconstructed here because it was so delicate and we lacked the necessary equipment to carry out the reconstruction.

He explained that the skull belonged to a tree climbing herbivore that must have died when it was about 10 years old, in its adolescence stage. The original fossil will be displayed as it was discovered, in pieces. Researchers in Paris scanned the fossil and using their knowledge of hominid development and a chimpanzee skull for comparison were able to digitally rebuild the skull.

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Prof. Brigitte Senut of the Paris National Museum of Natural History who headed the project from the French side noted that multiple reconstructions were done in order to arrive at the most likely reconstruction of the skull.

Minister of Tourism, wildlife and Heritage Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu commended the scientists, calling their discovery a major one. “This fossil is very special. It’s like winning a gold medal at the London Olympics. We take pride in the fossil because it was found in our land. It is our contribution to the understanding of the origin of man.’’

The minister rubbished rumours that government intended to demolish the National Museum to give way for the construction of a mega building, saying the rumours were baseless.
“We can’t destroy our heritage like that. When you see the president giving sh2b for the reconstruction of the Kasubi tombs, it means we take our cultural heritage very seriously.’’

He said the fossil would be put in the museum so scholars and other people all over the world who were curious to know about the origins of mankind could come see it. Casts made of the fossils, will also be sent to competing paleontologists worldwide to increase the chances of getting an accurate reconstruction.

“If we attract more people to Uganda this means more revenue for the country.’’This year lonely planet, the largest travel guide book in the world, named Uganda the favorite tourist destination in the world.

He thanked the French government, which he said has been consistent in funding tourism related activities in Uganda. The minister revealed that in March this year the French people reconstructed a museum—the Karamajong Cultural Museum in Moroto—after the people of Karamoja expressed to the French Embassy in Uganda their need for a museum focused on their cultural heritage.

Prof. Senut said they returned the fossil back to Uganda because the fossil belongs to Uganda. It is part of Uganda’s heritage and the knowledge to be had from it represents yet another of Uganda’s contributions to the scientific community.

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