Scientists Reconstruct 12-Million-Year-Old Ape Skull

A crew of paleoanthropologists has assembled the one recognized skull of the extinct ape Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, revealing how the ape’s face appeared. The reconstruction permits them to put Pierolapithecus on the hominid household tree and improves our understanding of how the ape moved round Spain some 12 million years in the past.

Pierolapithecus was first described in 2004, when a partial skeletal and facial skull had been present in a landfill on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain. The specimen dated to over 12 million years previous and was discovered alongside two different genera of extinct ape: Dryopithecus and Anoiapithecus. By the unique crew’s evaluation—primarily based on Pierolapithecus’ “primitive monkeylike” traits and its skeleton, which indicated the ape might tackle an upright posture—the specimen was intently associated to the final widespread ancestor of nice apes and people.

Within the new analysis, the crew CT-scanned the fossil skull to nearly reconstruct it and higher examine the specimen to different recognized hominids. The analysis is printed in the present day within the Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences.

“Options of the cranium and enamel are extraordinarily necessary in resolving the evolutionary relationships of fossil species,” stated Kelsey Pugh, an anthropologist on the American Museum of Pure Historical past in New York and the examine’s lead writer, in a museum launch. “After we discover this materials in affiliation with bones of the remainder of the skeleton, it offers us the chance to not solely precisely place the species on the hominid household tree, but additionally to study extra in regards to the biology of the animal when it comes to, for instance, the way it was shifting round its surroundings.”

A capability to tackle an upright posture means that Pierolapithecus, like many different hominids, might cling on branches and navigate by way of the canopies. That was beforehand recognized, however the situation of the fossilized skull made it exhausting to grasp the place the ape was located taxonomically. As soon as CT scans had been product of the skull and it was nearly pieced collectively, the researchers had been in a position to examine Pierolapithecus to different recognized hominids.

“One of many persistent points in research of ape and human evolution is that the fossil file is fragmentary, and plenty of specimens are incompletely preserved and distorted,” stated examine co-author Ashley Hammond, a organic anthropologist at American Museum of Pure Historical past, in a museum launch. This makes it troublesome to achieve a consensus on the evolutionary relationships of key fossil apes which can be important to understanding ape and human evolution.”

The crew discovered that Pierolapithecus’ had similarities with these different nice apes extinct and extant, when it comes to its common form and dimension. Primarily based on evolutionary modeling that includes the newly measured traits of the Pierolapithecus skull, the crew decided some facial facets of final widespread ancestor of hominids. That ancestor, the crew wrote “was distinct in general form from all extant and fossil hominids and related in lots of options to Pierolapithecus.”

Our final widespread ancestor stays elusive, however facets of it are slowly turning into extra resolved because of newly discovered fossils and new methods of interrogating beforehand found ones. The newly CT-scanned skull is permitting scientists to look into the face—virtually—of this enigmatic member of our household tree.

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