POITIERS, FRANCE--Michel Brunet removes the cracked, brown skull from its padlocked, foam-lined metal carrying case and carefully places it on the desk in front of me. It is about the size of a coconut, with a slight snout and a thick brow visoring its stony sockets. To my inexpert eye, the face is at once foreign and inscrutably familiar. To Brunet, a paleontologist at the University of Poitiers, it is the visage of the lost relative he has sought for 26 years. "He is the oldest one," the veteran fossil hunter murmurs, "the oldest hominid."
Brunet and his team set the field of paleoanthropology abuzz when they unveiled their find last July. Unearthed from sandstorm-scoured deposits in northern Chad's Djurab Desert, the astonishingly complete cranium--
This article was originally published with the title An Ancestor to Call Our Own.