Pierolapithecus catalaunicus is an extinct species of primate which lived about 13 million years ago during the Miocene in what is now Hostalets de Pierola, Catalonia, giving the name to the species. It is believed by some to be a common ancestor of both modern humans and the other great apes, or at least a species that brings us closer to a common ancestor than any previous fossil discovery.
The species was described by a team of Catalan paleoanthropologists led by Salvador Moyà-Solà on the basis of a fossil specimen discovered in December 2002. The finding was first reported in the journal Science on November 19, 2004.
Pierolapithecus had special adaptations for tree climbing, just as humans and other great apes do: a wide, flat ribcage, a stiff lower spine, flexible wrists, and shoulder blades that lay along its back. Old World monkeys and gibbons show more generalized characteristics. The ape does have more plesiomorphic, monkey-like features, however, such as a sloped face and short fingers and toes.
The hypothesis that this new species was an ancestor of all modern great apes is controversial because of its location in the Iberian Peninsula, since all the existing great ape species live in either Southeast Asia or Africa, and Africa has been the location for so much of the evolution of hominid apes. However, the Mediterranean Sea expanded and contracted frequently in the past, permitting the dispersal of life between Africa and Europe and the Pierolapithecus could have lived on both continents.
Rather than a full common ancestor, it has been suggested that the species may be ancestral to humans, chimpanzees and gorillas but not orangutans, given certain characteristics of the face.
- Rincon, Paul (18 November 2004). "'Original' great ape discovered". BBC. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- Moya-Sola, S.; Köhler, M.; Alba, D. M.; Casanovas-Vilar, I.; Galindo, J. (2004). "Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, a New Middle Miocene Great Ape from Spain". Science 306 (5700): 1339–1344. doi:10.1126/science.1103094. PMID 15550663.
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