Newly Discovered Small Ape Roamed Earth 11.6 Million Years Ago

Posted on October 29, 2015

Pliobates cataloniae, an ancient small ape

Scientists have discovered the partial skeleton of a previously unknown genus and species of small ape. The newly discovered ape existed before the evolutionary split of humans/great apes (hominids) and gibbons (the lesser apes or hylobatids). The species has been given the name Pliobates cataloniae.

This discovery could reshape current theories that great apes, including humans, diverged from small-bodied apes about 17 million years ago. The new unexpected smaller species has features of both groups. P. cataloniae was discovered by a team of researchers from the George Washington University (GW) and the Institut Catala de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP).

Sergio Almecija, assistant professor of anthropology in the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology at GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, says in a statement, "This fossil discovery is providing a missing chapter to the beginning of ape and human history. We used to think that small apes evolved from larger-bodied apes, but this new species tells us that small and large apes may have co-existed since hominoids originated. Alternatively, Pliobates might indicate that great apes evolved from gibbon-size ape ancestors."

The partial fossilized skeleton was found discovered during the construction of a landfill in Barcelona, Abocador de Can Mata, in 2011. It was composed of 70 fossil remains. The researchers say the small ape was a female that weighs between 9 and 11 pounds. It is thought to have lived on soft fruits and moved through the forest canopy by climbing and suspending itself beneath branches. A research paper on the findings was published here in Science magazine.



The main cranial fragment of Pliobates cataloniae in basal view is pictured below.

Main cranial fragment of Pliobates cataloniae


Image: Marta Palmero / Institut CatalĂ  de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont
Photo: Institut Catala de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont

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