Scientists recreate face of ape species that lived about 12 million years ago and ‘may be


A well-preserved skull of a European great ape which could be among the earliest ancestors of the human race has been reconstructed by scientists using CT scans.

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 catalaunicus, was one 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 cranium and partial skeleton from the same individual, which is rare.

The researchers used CT scans to reconstruct the skull (American Museum of Natural History)

The 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)

The species also has distinct facial features not found in other apes from the same period (PA)

Could the ape be our earliest known ancestor? (PA)

Could the ape be our earliest known ancestor? (PA) 

Ashley Hammond, associate curator and chair of the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Anthropology, said: ‘One of the persistent issues in studies of ape and human evolution is that the fossil record is fragmentary, and many specimens are incompletely preserved and distorted.’

‘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 the journal Science 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, ‘Features of the skull and teeth are extremely important in resolving the evolutionary relationships of fossil species.

‘When we find this material in association with bones of the rest of the skeleton, it gives us the opportunity to not only accurately place the species on the hominid family tree, but also to learn more about the biology of the animal in terms of, for example, how it was moving around its environment.’

Previous research on the species suggest it had an upright body, and adaptations which meant it could hang from tree branches and move from tree to tree.

But scientists have been divided on where the ape fitted on the evolutionary tree, due to damage to the cranium.

The researchers used CT scans to virtually reconstruct the cranium of Pierolapithecus, and compare it to other primate species.

The researchers found that Pierolapithecus shares similarities in overall face shape and size with both fossilized and living great apes.

Pierolapithecus shares similarities in overall face shape and size with both fossilized and living great apes

 Pierolapithecus shares similarities in overall face shape and size with both 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, a senior research scientist in the Museum’s Division of Anthropology said, ‘An interesting output of the evolutionary modeling in the study is that that the cranium of Pierolapithecus is closer in shape and size to the ancestor from which living great apes and humans evolved.

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



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