Juvenile crania of apes and hominins are extremely rare in the fossil record, especially those of infants and young juveniles. The Lufengpithecus fossil is only the second relatively complete cranium of a young juvenile in the entire Miocene record of fossil apes throughout the Old World, and both were discovered from the late Miocene of Yunnan Province.

The cranium is also noteworthy for its age. It dates to near the end of the Miocene, a time when apes had become extinct in most of Eurasia.

“The fossils recovered from Shuitangba constitute one of the most important collections of late Miocene fossils brought to light in recent decades because they represent a snapshot from a critical transitional period in earth history,” said Prof Nina Jablonski from Pennsylvania State University, a second author of the paper published in the Chinese Science Bulletin.