Brunet says Wolpoff and colleagues provide no evidence that the
skull is that of an ape, "nor have they disproved any derived
feature that this species shares with later hominids".
This area of science is known to be fiercely competitive, with
each new discovery received with cool scepticism by the rival
research groups who are all digging in different parts of Africa.
In January last year, it was Senut and Pickford who had to face
the doubters when they announced the discovery of Kenyan fossils - a
piece of jaw, teeth, a fingertip, an arm, and a sturdy leg bone -
they said came from a six-million-year-old hominid (Orrorin
It is the journals and the process of peer review that have to
try to balance various claims and counter claims and steer the
science towards a clearer understanding of the origins of the human
Chris Stringer, a hominids expert at London's Natural History
Museum, said that whatever the truth about
Sahelanthropus, it was still a find of great importance.
He said Toumai was the only relatively complete skull so far
discovered from a time that has produced very few specimens.
And it was because of this "fossil gap" that he cautioned all
researchers not to make grand claims for any find.
"In my opinion, it is still too early to say where either
Sahelanthropus or Orrorin lie in relation to our evolutionary line.
"The ancestors of the gorilla and chimpanzees remain to be
recognised or found from six million years ago, no doubt along with
parallel side-branches that probably also existed at that time.
He added: "It is dangerous to assume that the present
distinctive features of gorillas, chimpanzees or humans would
necessarily have been present at the beginnings of their evolution,
or were unique to their line only.
"In my opinion, it is premature to push the claims too far for
any fossils to be the earliest members of the human family in the
present patchy state of our knowledge."
And Mark Collard, an anthropologist from University College
London, was of the same opinion.
"At this point in time I don't think there is any reason to
accept either team's hypothesis," he said.
"We can be confident that the specimen is a member of Hominoidea
(the group formed by hominids and apes), but at the moment we cannot
say whether [Toumai] is a hominid or an ape with any certainty at