Palaeontologists excavating a dump outside Barcelona have found a skull dating back 14m years that could belong to a common ancestor of apes and humans.
The nearly intact skull, which has a flat face, jaw and teeth, may belong to a previously unknown species of great ape, said Salvador Moya, the chief palaeontologist on the dig. "We could find a cradle of humanity in the Mediterranean," he said.
A routine land survey for a planned expansion of the Can Mata dump in Els Hostalets de Pierola turned up the first surprise in 2002: a primate's tooth.
Since then, scientists from the Miquel Crusafont Institute of Palaeontology in Sabadell have unearthed nearly 12,000 fossils of primates and other animals that lived during the Middle Miocene era - between 14m and 8m years ago - when the area was covered by tropical rainforest and populated by the precursors of today's elephants, antelopes and monkeys.
Last year, the team found a 13m-year-old partial skeleton, also believed to be a common ancestor of apes and humans - a male fruit-eater, nicknamed Pau.
"If there is a place in the world where it is possible to find an entire skeleton of a common ancestor to the great apes and humans, it is Hostalets de Pierola," Mr Moya told El País newspaper. "In few places [will] you uncover so many connected vertebrae in such good condition."
The Can Mata dump sits above clay soil in which animal remains became trapped and well-preserved.