Washington, June 11 (ANI): Scientists have discovered an 11.9-million-year-old fossil ape species with an unusually flat, "surprisingly human" face in Spain, a find that could prove to be the "missing link" between early human ancestors and more primitive apes.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the species, Anoiapithecus brevirostris, suggests humans' ape ancestors split from primitive apes in Europe, not Africa.
It may also represent the last known common ancestor of humans and living great apes, including orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees.
"With this fossil, our opinion is that the origin of our family very probably took place in the Mediterranean region," said study leader Salvador Moya-Sola of the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona.
"Unearthed at a fossil-rich site near Barcelona in 2004, the fragmented skull remains suggest a species with human-like facial features," Moya-Sola 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.
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, according to the study.
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.
Kenyapithecus species have been proposed as common ancestors of humans and great apes.
Until now, however, there hasn't been a fossil linking Kenyapithecus to later apes thought to have evolved into more direct human ancestors, according to the study.
"The Spanish ape suggests this key evolutionary transition occurred after Kenyapithecus arrived in Europe from Africa some 15 million years ago, likely crossing over before the Mediterranean Sea formed, separating Africa from Europe," Moya-Sola said.
"The 'folks' that migrated from Africa to the Mediterranean area were in fact completely primitive, without the (hominid) features that identify the members of our family," he said.
"The ancestors of gorillas, chimps, and humans then went back to Africa close to some nine million years ago," he added.
Moya-Sola doesn't rule out the possibility that each of the great ape species evolved independently from different Kenyapithecus species.
It's possible that Africa could yet yield a species that, like the new Spanish ape, bridging the gap between early human ancestors and more primitive apes. (ANI)