Uganda’s tourism basks in discovery of ape’s skull

Days  after a 20 million-year-old ape skull was discovered in Iriri, on the slopes of volcanic Mt. Napak, in Karamoja, the State Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage says the discovery has pushed Uganda’s tourism industry to greater heights.

Agnes Akiror described the discovery as great and critical in promoting tourism in the country. “This discovery places Uganda high and it will help promote tourism. We have always said that Africa is the cradle of humanity,” she said.


A team of Ugandan and French scientists discovered the sub- complete skull of the ape on July 18, 2011 in what researchers described as a historic discovery. This followed 25 years of research, which started in 1985 in Karamoja. Dr Martin Pickford, a French lead researcher from Collège de France in Paris was one of the lead researchers.  He said this is the first time that a complete skull of an ape of this age has been found.

“It is a highly important fossil and it will certainly put Uganda on the world map in terms of the scientific world,” he said.

Preliminary studies indicate that the skull belonged to a male Uganda Pithecus Major, a remote cousin of today’s great apes which roamed the region around 20 million years ago. Prof Brigitte Senut of Museum National d’ Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, who headed the research described the discovery as a major breakthrough in understanding human ancestry and their closest cousins, the apes.

“It is very significant in the terms that it is the first time we find in Africa a complete or sub complete skull of this kind of ape. It is the first one known in Africa and in the world,” she said.


The ape is reported to have been the size of a chimpanzee but its brain size was like that of a baboon, an interesting factor that Prof Brigitte emphasized needs further investigation.

“We can now understand better the brain evolution, face evolution and how it relates to other modern apes and to our own family,” she explained, adding that the skull is so far the modern sized ape skull ever found.

According to Pickford studies found that Karamoja was a thick forest from where the ape fed on fruits. Much of the Karamoja region is today semi arid. Pickford further revealed that Mt. Napak, 20 million years ago, was higher than Mt. Elgon and has only been affected by erosion. The skull is reported to have been buried beneath the volcanic ashes of Mt. Napak.


The skull will be taken to France for cleansing before being returned to Uganda for tourism and education purposes. The finding comes after another recent discovery of ancient rock paintings in Karamoja.


A group of researchers from the National Museum of Uganda, the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Florence (Italy) and the Department for Classic and Modern Civilizations, University of Tuscia (Italy) recently discovered a new rock painting in Moroto district.

“The painting was unknown to previous researchers who worked on archeological sites and shows a strict relation with those found in the Horn of Africa region, probably representing the southern edge of a uniform cultural area,” said Prof B. Turchetta of the University of Tuscia.

This research focused on geo-archaeological and archeo-metric analyses, historical documentation and semiotic interpretation of the rock paintings in north-eastern Uganda, whereby more than 20 sites have been already documented by the research team.


Most of the sites are located on the eastern side of Lake Kyoga (Kumi and Soroti districts) and occupy large bouldery remnants of precambrian metamorphic rocks which dominate the geological landscape of this region of Uganda.

“The most recent discovery offers new scientific evidences of ancient contact among Cushitic and Nilotic groups, in the framework of great migrations which occurred in the area between 3000 and 1000 millennia B.P.,” Prof Turchetta said in a statement.

Compiled by Jackie
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