Researchers found that the last common ancestors of humans and apes are more gibbonlike than previously thought. Such discovery could help to determine how the last predecessors of humanity looked like.

In the past, experts think that the last common ancestor of hominoids looked like great apes such as gorillas and orangutans. Lesser apes such as gibbons were not closely associated with humans. In a new study, however, a group of researchers found ape fossils in Spain dating back from some 11.6 million years ago, suggesting that living hominoids may less likely resemble great apes.

The fossils, which they named Pliobates cataloniae (P. cataloniae), is a partial skeleton composed of 70 bones and fragments, with teeth and majority of the skull. A large section of the left arm, as well as numerous parts of the elbow and wrist joints were also unearthed.

Looking at the anatomy of the fossil, P. cataloniae dwelled on trees as its limbs appeared to have been used for walking and hanging on tree tops. The wrist and elbows were found to have exhibited considerable rotation, which may have allowed it to perform careful and slow climbing. However, the elbow lacked a bone ridge that assists living apes to balance the joints while hanging.

The ears and teeth of the P. cataloniae looked like that of primitive primates that lived before the hominoids and its closest monkey relatives came to a split. However, the species had the same facial characteristics with gibbons, which suggests that the ancient hominoids looked more like lesser apes.

"Pliobates enlightens our understanding of how this ancestor would have looked, in particular by suggesting that in several respects, such as skull shape or body size, it would have been more similar to gibbons than previously thought," said David Alba, lead author of the research and a paleobiologist from the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Spain.

The study was published in the journal Science on Friday, Oct. 30.

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