The recently uncovered fossils of a new type of ancient ape could not only help us understand when our ancestors started to stand upright and walk on legs, but also rewrite the history of early human evolution as well.
The fossils of an 11-million-year-old pe indicate that our ancestors developed the ability to stand upright and walk on two feet millions of years earlier than previously thought.
This comes after experts uncovered a partial, fossilized skeleton of a male ape that is thought to have lived in the once lush forests of what is today southern Germany.
Surprisingly, the researchers say that the uncovered bones are eerily similar to that of modern humans.
Detailed in a paper published in the Journal Nature, the researchers explained that the new species of ape called Danuvius guggenmosi — developed the ability to walk on two legs but also climb like an ape, millions of years before bipedalism supposedly arose.
The discovery comes as a big surprise and forces us to rethink the fundamental question concerning the evolution of apes and humans.
“The finds in southern Germany are a milestone in palaeoanthropology because they raise fundamental questions about our previous understanding of the evolution of the great apes and humans,” said Prof Madelaine Böhme from the University of Tübingen, Germany.
Understanding when exactly apes first developed the ability to stand on two legs has baffled experts for years. According to previous fossil records, it was argued that apes standing on two legs can be traced to a period of around 6 million years ago.
However, the recently uncovered evidence points towards a much earlier period.
The new study saw Boehme participate with fellow scientists from Bulgaria, Germany, Canada, and the United States, who studied more than 15,000 bones retrieved from an archeological site known as the Hammerschmiede, locate around 70 kilometers (44 miles) west of the Munich in Germany.
Among the hundreds of remains, the scientists were able to piece together a primate fossil belonging to four apes that are thought to have “walked” the Earth 11.6 million years ago.
The most complete fossil of the ape is that of an adult male which is believed to have stood about one meter, who looked similar to what modern-day bonobos chimpanzee looked like.
Precisely these bones were what caught experts by surprise, leaving them questioning many evolutionary theories that scholars maintained for decades.
“It was astonishing for us to realize how similar certain bones are to humans, as opposed to great apes,” Boehme explained in the interview.
When experts reconstructed how the ancient ape moved, they concluded that it had the ability to straighten legs and walk upright, while also having the ability to hang from one tree to the other.
This discovery marked an important step in early human evolution.
“This changes our view of early human evolution, which is that it all happened in Africa,” Boehme explained. The discovery although exciting is likely to be met with heavy criticism from other scholars mostly because it challenges most of our existing ideas about human evolution.