Petite primate fossil could upend ideas about ape evolution | Science News


Support credible science journalism.

Subscribe to Science News today.


Petite primate fossil could upend ideas about ape evolution

11.6-million-year-old fossil suggests a gibbonlike creature was modern apes’ common ancestor

2:00pm, October 29, 2015
ape reconstruction

LITTLE BIG APE  A reconstruction of a fossil primate’s 11.6-million-year-old skull, shown from the side and the front, reveals a mix of apelike and monkeylike features. This creature, depicted at right, may have been a surprisingly small ancestor of all modern apes.

An ancient primate’s partial skeleton, discovered in northeastern Spain, is poised to downsize ape evolution in a big way.

This 11.6-million-year-old fossil find, nicknamed Laia by its discoverers, represents the first evidence that present-day African apes descended from a relatively small, somewhat gibbonlike common ancestor — not large-bodied African primates as previously thought, scientists report in the Oct. 30 Science. If that scenario holds up, Laia’s discovery also shows for the first time that ancient, small-bodied apes moved from Africa to Europe, says a team led by paleontologist David Alba of Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona.

Based on analysis of more than 300 teeth, skull and lower-body measurements, Alba and colleagues assign the partial skeleton to a new genus and species of ancient ape, Pliobates cataloniae.

Some scientists

This article is available only to subscribing members. Join the Society today or Log in.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content