Fossil Skeleton Gives View of Early Ape Evolution
NEW YORK (AP) _ Scientists have found a partial skeleton of a tree-dwelling, fig-munching ape from 9.5 million years ago that confirms indications apes had already taken a first step toward walking like humans.
The skeleton, from a 75-pound male Dryopithecus, shows the creature had a semi-erect posture like today’s so-called great apes, which are chimps, gorillas and orangutans.
Many scientists would not have expected that characteristic so long ago, researcher Meike Koehler said. But other experts said prior research had indicated upright posture in apes by that time.
The remains are the first known skeleton of a Dryopithecus. The creature stayed relatively upright as it moved around in trees, rather than taking the more horizontal posture of monkeys, Koehler said. It could also stand partially upright during its brief visits to the ground, she said.
But she said Dryopithecus did not walk on two legs like a person or as human ancestors called australopithecines did by about 4 million years ago. Instead, it may have used its fists or palms to help it move along the ground, she said.
Further analysis of the skeleton might shed light on how upright walking developed, Koehler said.
The skeleton was found near Barcelona, Spain. Koehler and Salvador Moya-Sola, both of the Miquel Crusafont Institute of Paleontology in Sabadell, Spain, reported the discovery in today’s issue of the journal Nature.
David Begun, a Dryopithecus expert at the University of Toronto, said scientists had prior indications from fossils that Dryopithecus was upright, but the new find provides the strongest evidence.
An older creature, Sivapithecus, which lived in India and Pakistan from 12.5 million years ago to about 7 million years ago, also shows evidence of having been upright, he said.
Terry Harrison of New York University, an expert on fossil apes, said the finding provides an important glimpse into a dimly understood period of ape development from 15 million years ago to about 5 million years ago.