Researchers Discover 11.6 Million-Year-Old Ape Fossils

First Posted: Oct 30, 2015 02:20 PM EDT

Researchers have identified a new species of small apes, known as Pliobates cataloniae, which existed 11.6 million years ago, before the evolutionary split between humans and great apes, according to study by the George Washington University and the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont, in Spain. 

"This fossil discovery is providing a missing chapter to the beginning of ape and human history," said Sergio Almecija, assistant professor of anthropology at GW, in a news release.

"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," said Almecija.

The newly discovered Pliobates cataloniae is the last common ancestor of the two groups of living hominoids. The fossil remains were found in a landfill in Barcelona, Spain. Scientists believe the remains belonged to an adult female that weighed between 9 and 11 pounds. This new finding will enable researchers to further examine the evolution of great apes and small apes.

"These remains clearly belong to an ape, but they are so small. Then we realized, maybe we are looking at this the wrong way. Maybe some early ape ancestors were smaller than we thought," said Almecija.

The findings of this study were published in Science magazine.

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