Scientists have reconstructed using CT scans a well-preserved skull of a European great ape that could be among the first ancestors of the human race.
The researchers say their results are consistent with the idea that this species represents one of the earliest members of the human and great ape family.
The species, Pierolapithecus catalaunicusIt was part of a group of now extinct ape species that lived in Europe between 15 and seven million years ago.
The researchers hoped to learn more about human evolution from the remains, because they found both a skull and a partial skeleton of the same individual, which is rare.
Researchers used CT scans to reconstruct the skull (American Museum of Natural History)
The species also has distinct facial features not found in other apes from the same period (PA)
Could the ape be our first known ancestor? (PENNSYLVANIA)
Ashley Hammond, associate curator and chair of the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, said: “One of the persistent problems in studies of ape and human evolution is that the fossil record is fragmentary and many specimens are distorted and incompletely preserved.’
“This makes it difficult to reach a consensus on the evolutionary relationships of key fossil apes that are essential to understanding ape and human evolution.”
The remains were first unearthed in Catalonia, Spain, in 2002 and first reported in Science magazine in 2004.
Scientists unearthed parts of the skull, along with other bones such as vertebrae, ribs, and parts of the hands and pelvis.
Lead author Kelsey Pugh, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, said: “Characteristics of the skull and teeth are extremely important in resolving the evolutionary relationships of fossil species.
“When we find this material associated with bones from the rest of the skeleton, it gives us the opportunity not only to precisely place species on the hominid family tree, but also to learn more about the biology of the animal in terms of, for example, how he moved in his environment.’
Previous research on the species suggests that it had an upright body and adaptations that allowed it to hang from tree branches and move from tree to tree.
But scientists are divided over where the ape fits on the evolutionary tree, due to damage to the skull.
The researchers used CT scans to virtually reconstruct the skull of Pierolapithecus and compare it to other primate species.
The researchers discovered that Pierolapithecus shares similarities in overall face shape and size with fossilized and living great apes.
Pierolapithecus shares similarities in overall face shape and size with fossilized and living great apes.
The species also has distinct facial features not found in other apes from the same period.
Co-author Sergio Almécija, senior research scientist in the Museum’s Anthropology Division, said: “An interesting result of the study’s evolutionary modeling is that the Pierolapithecus skull is closer in shape and size to the ancestor from which the great apes were born.” . and humans evolved.
The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.