Skip to comments.'Original' great ape discovered [New genus "Missing Link" found!]
Posted on 02/18/2007 11:40:54 PM PST by LibWhacker
Scientists have unearthed remains of a primate that could have been ancestral not only to humans but to all great apes, including chimps and gorillas.
The partial skeleton of this 13-million-year-old "missing link" was found by palaeontologists working at a dig site near Barcelona in Spain.
Details of the sensational discovery appear in Science magazine.
The new specimen was probably male, a fruit-eater and was slightly smaller than a chimpanzee, researchers say.
Palaeontologists were just getting started at the dig when a bulldozer churned up a tooth.
Further investigation yielded one of the most complete ape skeletons known from the Miocene Epoch (about 22 to 5.5 million years ago).
Salvador Moyà-Solà of the Miquel Crusafont Institute of Palaeontology in Barcelona and colleagues subsequently found parts of the skull, ribcage, spine, hands and feet, along with other bones.
They have assigned it to an entirely new genus and species: Pierolapithecus catalaunicus .
Great apes are thought - on the basis of genetic and other evidence - to have separated from another primate group known as the lesser apes some time between 11 and 16 million years ago (The lesser apes include gibbons and siamang).
It is fascinating, therefore, for a specimen like Pierolapithecus to turn up right in this window.
Scientists think the creature lived after the lesser apes went their own evolutionary way, but before the great apes began their own diversification into different forms such as orang-utans, gorillas, chimps and, of course, humans.
" Pierolapithecus probably is, or is very close to, the last common ancestor of great apes and humans," said Professor Moyà-Solà.
The new ape's ribcage, lower spine and wrist display signs of specialised climbing abilities that link it with modern great apes, say the researchers.
The overall orthograde - or upright - body design of this animal and modern-day great apes is thought to be an adaptation to vertical climbing and suspending the body from branches.
The Miocene ape fossil record is patchy; so finding such a complete fossil from this time period is unprecedented.
"It's very impressive because of its completeness," David Begun, professor of palaeoanthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada, told the BBC News website.
"I think the authors are right that it fills a gap between the first apes to arrive in Europe and the fossil apes that more closely resemble those living today."
Planet of the apes
Other scientists working on fossil apes were delighted by the discovery. But not all were convinced by the conclusions drawn by the Spanish researchers.
Professor Begun considers it unlikely that Pierolapithecus was ancestral to orang-utans.
"I haven't seen the original fossils. But there are four or five important features of the face, in particular, that seem to be closer to African apes," he explained.
"To me the possibility exists that it is already on the evolutionary line to African apes and humans."
Professor David Pilbeam, director of the Peadbody Museum in Cambridge, US, was even more sceptical about the relationship of Pierolapithecus to modern great apes: "To me it's a very long stretch to link this to any of the living apes," he told the BBC News website.
"I think it's unlikely that you would find relatives of the apes that live today in equatorial Africa and Asia up in Europe.
"But it's interesting in that it appears to show some adaptations towards having a trunk that's upright because it's suspending itself [from branches].
"It also has some features that show quadrupedal (four-legged) behaviour. Not quadrupedal in the way chimps or gorillas are, but more in the way that monkeys are - putting their fingers down flat," he explained.
During the Miocene, Earth really was the planet of the apes.
As many as 100 different ape species roamed the Old World, from France to China in Eurasia and from Kenya to Namibia in Africa.
I thought the "missing link" was somewhere between apes and humans...
Yes, they describe this as a missing link. So I take it there is more than one gap in the fossil record?
I would think it's just the brit senationalist press calling it that for fun. But I think the real so-called "missing link" is elsewhere in the chain.
And the "missing link" chain is now, what, about a mile long? But, there is room for more.
Since humans are apes how could there be a missing link such as you thought?
Humans are primates, not apes, although I've seen some people who would make you wonder...
Looks to me like a picture of Hillary speaking.
They had to call it a "missing link" to promote Darwinism. It is not a missing link and it is an ape not half ape half man. See my tag line.
EVERYTHING is called "the missing link" - - it's how vain scientists get their names in the journals and troll for grant money.
Modern humans are a sub-species within that family.
We are apes of the primate order.
Species: H. sapiens
Subspecies: H. s. sapiens
Teaches me to drunk post.
Thanks for that. I've never understood it. How many "kingdoms" are there, anyway? How many classes, etc.? Do you know of a website where it's all spelled out in a simple straightforward way so a complete beginner can understand it? Thanks.
I am NOT an ape!!!!(though I have been told I have the taqble manners of one)
OK, so in which family, if not Hominidae, do you claim to be?
The Linneaen system is actually outdated at the moment, but I think that you can say with pretty high confidence that there are 3 "kingdoms": Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryota. And then there are the viruses, but nobody's really sure just what the hell they are or where they came from, because they evolve so quickly.
The most up-to-date website, although it claims not to be comprehensive in any regard, is the NCBI Taxonomy site: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Taxonomy/Browser/wwwtax.cgi?mode=Root. But if you're a complete beginner, then the best place to go exploring is the Tree of Life: http://tolweb.org
Ok. What makes you not an ape?
Oh, thanks for those! The TolWeb site looks just right for me at the moment (although I think I'll eventually spend lots of time at both): Lots of footnotes and links to other sites, which I always appreciate. This stuff has always been confusing to me. Thanks again. Cheers!