COLUMBUS , Ohio A new study suggests that prehistoric birds of prey made meals out of some of our earliest human ancestors.
Researchers drew this conclusion after studying more than 600 bones from modern-day monkeys. They had collected the bones from beneath the nests of African crowned eagles in the Ivory Coast's Tai rainforest. A full-grown African crowned eagle is roughly the size of an American bald eagle, which typically weighs about 10 to 12 pounds.
Punctures and scratches on many of the monkey skulls have led some researchers to rethink which animals may have preyed on our human ancestors, said W. Scott McGraw, the study's lead author and an associate professor of anthropology at Ohio State University.
"It seems that raptors have been a selective force in primate evolution for a long time," he said. "Before this study I thought that eagles wouldn't contribute that much to the mortality rate of primates in the forest.
"I couldn't have been more wrong."
The results may also have important implications for the mystery surrounding the death of one human ancestor who lived about 2.5 million years ago.
Archaeologists discovered the skull of a 3-year old ape-like child in a cave in South Africa in 1924. Researchers believed this child, called the Taung child (Australopithecus africanus), had been killed by a predatory cat. But McGraw said that puncture marks on the monkey skulls he examined closely resemble those found on the skull of the Taung child.
"Eagles leave very distinctive beak and talon punctures around the face and in the eye sockets," "The skull of the Taung child has these same kinds of puncture marks."
The study is online at the website of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and is scheduled for publication in the journal's October issue. McGraw conducted the study with Catherine Cooke, a graduate student in anthropology at Ohio State , and with Susanne S
Contact: W. Scott McGraw
Ohio State University