A new ape species from Spain called Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, or its close relative, may have been the last common ancestor to all living great apes, including humans, researchers say. The Spanish paleontology team describes its fossil find in the 19 November issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.
Like other great apes, Pierolapithecus had a stiff lower spine and other special adaptations for climbing. These features, plus the fossil's age of about 13 million years, suggest that this species was probably close to the last great ape ancestor, according to Salvador Moy-Sol of the Miguel Crusafont Institute of Paleontology and the Diputacin de Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain and his colleagues.
The great apes, which now include orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas and humans, are thought to have diverged from the lesser apes, a group that contains modern gibbons and siamangs, about 11 to 16 million years ago.
Fossil evidence from this time period, the middle Miocene epoch, is sparse, however, and researchers have long been searching for the great ape ancestors that emerged after this split.
The scanty fossil record has revealed several contenders, including Kenyapithecus, and Equatorius or the older Morotopithecus and Afropithecus, but the fossils that do exist indicate that these ancient "hominoids" were more primitive than Pierolapithecus, Moy-Sol said.
The relatively complete Pierolapithecus skeleton shows a variety of important fe
Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science