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Gelada baboons lip-smacking mimics human speech (VIDEO)

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Gelada baboons' lip-smacking may be an evolutionary step towards speech, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

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Michael Latz/DDP

Gelada baboons' bizarre lip-smacks share a surprising similarity to human speech, according to a new study.

University of Michigan researchers found that the primates use the speech-like method to conduct friendly interactions.

The lip calls could be similar to those made by our early ancestors before speech.

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Indeed, the sounds could be an early step towards speaking.

"Our finding provides support for the lip-smacking origins of speech because it shows that this evolutionary pathway is at least plausible," said Thore Bergman of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in a statement.

"It demonstrates that nonhuman primates can vocalize while lip-smacking to produce speech-like sounds." 

The geladas of Ethiopia are the only nonhuman primate to communicate in such a complex way.

The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.