Thursday, November 25, 2004

T-Day geek post #4

Okay, we've gone from today to 13,000 years ago to 50,000 years ago. Kid stuff.
Scientists in Spain announced Thursday that they've unearthed a 13 million-year-old fossilized skeleton of an ape that is possibly a common ancestor of humans and great apes, including orangutans, bonobos, chimps and gorillas.

The find could add a yet another branch to the human family tree and fill in a gap in our knowledge of hominoid evolution. ...

Researchers think great apes diverged from lesser apes, which are gibbons and siamangs, about 11 million to 16 million years ago. Fossils from that geological epoch, called the middle Miocene, are fairly rare. Scientists believe humans diverged from the living great apes about 6 million years ago.
Those fossils are rare because the animals often lived in forests, where the damp conditions make bones decay fairly rapidly so they don't fossilize well. (This fact, by the way, seems of no interest to the flat-Earth anti-evolutionists who will harp on every gap in the fossil record even though a number of those gaps occur where you'd expect them to occur, such as among animals that did not live in dry climates.) So the find is very significant.
Study of the fossilized bones suggest Pierolapithecus [catalaunicus, as the species has been named,] was a tree climber, with a stiff lower spine, and a specially adapted rib cage and wrist bones. However, its short fingers suggest it did not do a lot of hanging from branches. ...

Study of the fossils suggests the ape was male, weighed about 75 pounds, and ate fruit.
Footnote: The same article notes one other thing:
Only four species of great apes - orangutans, bonobos, gorillas and chimpanzees - exist today. All of them are endangered due to hunting and habitat loss.
"Humans are not proud of their ancestors, and rarely invite them round to dinner."

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