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But that also means that paleontologists could get lucky in many more places than they have looked so far. White and other old East Africa hands will continue the excavations they have under way in those traditionally fertile fossil fields. Other, less established scientists, though, may now feel emboldened to look in other parts of Africa with greater confidence that there is something important to find.
Brunet, meanwhile, has every reason to keep mining the windswept desert of Chad. "There's still plenty of work to do," he says. He and his team will be looking not only for additional Sahelanthropus bones but also for even older sediments that are between 7.5 million and 10 million years old rocks that could yield the ancestral species that gave rise to both humans and chimps. Paleontologists often take months or years to announce the existence of discoveries they have in hand, so it is quite possible that he and his team have already found something more.
Indeed, the last sentence of their paper in Nature declares that while Sahelanthropus will be central to illuminating the earliest chapter in evolutionary history, "more surprises can be expected." Given the splash Toumai has made, that could prove to be an understatement.