Thursday, November 25, 2004

COMMON ANCESTOR'S BONES FOUND

Fossils Found in Spain Seen as Last Link to Great Apes

Scientists in Spain have discovered fossils of an ape species from about 13 million years ago that they think may have been the last common ancestor of all living great apes, including humans.

The new ape species and its possible place in prehuman evolution are described in today's issue of the journal Science by a research team led by Dr. Salvador Moyà-Solà of the Miquel Crusafont Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona. The fossil remains were found near Barcelona and named Pierolapithecus catalaunicus.

In the report, the researchers concluded that the well-preserved skull, teeth and skeletal bones promised "to contribute substantially to our understanding of the origin of extant great apes and humans."

Dr. David R. Begun, a paleontologist at the University of Toronto who is familiar with the research but not a member of the team, called the fossils "a great discovery," adding, "I am convinced it is a great ape."

About 25 million years ago, Old World monkeys diverged from the primate line that led eventually to apes and humans. About 11 million to 16 million years ago, another branching occurred, when primates known as the great apes - which now include orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas and humans - split from the lesser apes, represented by today's gibbons and siamangs.

Although the great ape group includes humans, Dr. Brooks Hanson, deputy editor for physical sciences at Science, said, "it's important to remember that we've had millions of years of evolution since then."...