Washington D.C. - A team of scientists has set aside an entire new genus within the family of primates that includes great apes and humans after discovering an exquisitely preserved 15 million year old partial skeleton of an ancient ape. The new genus Equatorius, reported in the 27 August issue of Science, helps reshape the complex evolutionary tree around the time when the ancestor to humans and great apes arose, and reveals that one species, Kenyapithecus wickeri, is more closely related to that ancestor than previously thought.
The ape family tree has dwindled to a few remaining twigs today, but during the Miocene era (23-5.5 million years ago), it was a thriving, bushy affair, with numerous species in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Researchers agree that the great ape and human lineage originated from one of these animals, but their vote for the most likely ancestor changes as new discoveries are made and old fossils are re-analyzed. The new fossil ape reported in Science prompted its discoverers to take another look at the Kenyapithecus genus, an ape that researchers had once placed in the key ancestor position. Their analysis reclassified a more primitive-looking species of Kenyapithecus within the new genus Equatorius, allowing the researchers to draw a clearer connection between the remaining Kenyapithecus species and the living apes and humans.
The research team, which includes senior author Steve Ward of the Northeastern
Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Kent State University and project
director Andrew Hill of Yale University, revisited the problem of
Kenyapithecus' place in great ape ancestry after uncovering the skeleton
at the site of Kipsaramon in Kenya. They compared features in the Kipsaramon
fossil's teeth and jaws to dental and facial patterns in two
Kenyapithecus species: Kenyapithecus africanus and
Kenyapithecus wickeri. Their analysis revealed t
Contact: Heather Singmaster
American Association for the Advancement of Science