"Human"-Faced Missing Link Found in Spain?

June 10, 2009

Move over Ida—you're last month's news. There's a new (purported) "missing link" in town.

An 11.9-million-year-old fossil ape species with an unusually flat, "surprisingly human" face has been found in Spain. The discovery suggests humans' ape ancestors split from primitive apes in Europe, not Africa—the so-called cradle of humanity—a new study says.

The species, Anoiapithecus brevirostris, may also represent the last known common ancestor of humans and living great apes—including orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees—researchers say.

"With this fossil, our opinion is that the origin of our family very probably took place in the Mediterranean region," said study leader Salvador Moyà-Solà of the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona.

"Surprisingly Human"

Unearthed at a fossil-rich site near Barcelona in 2004, the fragmented skull remains suggest a species with human-like facial features, Moyà-Solà said.

But a familiar face in and of itself doesn't mean the fossil "has any special specific relationship with modern hominds"—humans and the great apes—the paleontologist added.

Rather, the human-like face is evidence of great diversity among ape species in the Mediterranean region 12 million years ago, he said.

Missing Link?

Resembling both primitive ape species and our early ancestors, Anoiapithecus could be called a missing link.

The ape's wide nose and long palate, for example, resemble those of the ancient apes from which great apes and humans arose, the study says.

But Anoiapithecus' thickly enameled teeth and robust jaw are like those of primitive Kenyapithecus fossil apes, which lived in both Africa and Europe, according to the team.

Continued on Next Page >>


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