A well-preserved skull of a European ape, which could be one of humanity’s earliest ancestors, 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 great ape family.
The species, Pierolapithecus catalaunicusHe belonged to a group of now extinct monkey species that lived in Europe between 15 and seven million years ago.
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, a rare occurrence.
Researchers used CT scans to reconstruct the skull (American Museum of Natural History).
The species also exhibits distinctive facial features not found in other monkeys from the same period (PA)
Could monkeys be our earliest known ancestor? (PA)
Ashley Hammond, associate curator and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, said: “One of the persistent problems in studying the evolution of apes and humans is that the fossil record is fragmentary, and many specimens are incompletely preserved and distorted. “’
“This makes it difficult to reach consensus on the evolutionary relationships of important fossil apes, which are essential to understanding ape and human evolution.”
The remains were first unearthed in Catalonia, Spain, in 2002 and were first published in the journal Science in 2004.
Scientists have unearthed parts of the skull, as well as 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 for elucidating the evolutionary relationships of fossil species.”
“Finding this material in conjunction with bones from the rest of the skeleton will not only give us the opportunity to accurately place the species in the hominid family tree, but also to learn more about the animal’s biology in terms of: for example, how it moved in its surroundings.”
Previous research on this species suggests that it had an upright body and adaptations that meant it could hang from branches and move from tree to tree.
However, due to damage to the skull, scientists do not agree on where the monkey should be placed in the evolutionary family tree.
The researchers used CT scans to virtually reconstruct the skull of Pierolapithecus and compare it to other primate species.
The researchers found that Pierolapithecus shares similarities with fossil and living great apes in general facial shape and size.
Pierolapithecus bears similarities to fossil and living great apes in general facial shape and size
The species also exhibits distinctive facial features not found in other monkeys from the same period.
Co-author Sergio Almécija, a senior scientist in the museum’s anthropology department, said: “An interesting result of the evolutionary modeling in the study is that the skull of Pierolapithecus is closer in shape and size to the ancestor of living great apes.” and the Humans evolved.
The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.