From the point of view of taxonomy, humans are part of the Hominidae family, which includes, among others, orangutans, apes, and chimpanzees. This family also includes the Hylobatidae, which numbers several species of gibbons.
Seeing as both humans and apes are part of the same taxonomical family, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to reason that these two now very different species had common ancestors.
Now, a new study claims to have determined their last common ancestor and what this must have been like.
Why Size Matters
Previous research determined that “hominoids” must have truly begun emerging and diversifying sometime during the Miocene period or some 23 million to 5 million years ago. The insufficient number of fossil records from that era has made it difficult to determine the last few ancestors common to both apes and humans.
But in trying to paint a clearer picture, Stony Brook University researchers conducted a new study. They started comparing currently available data on the body size of fossil records to those of modern primates.
The team used a wide range of fossil samples dating back to the Miocene and discovered in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Based on these calculations, the researchers concluded that the last common ancestor of hominids was likely no bigger than a gibbon. This was likely small and probably weighed some 12 pounds.
The results of this latest study contradict previous models which suggested that this last ancestor was chimpanzee-like or alike. Size is an important aspect when trying to establish the evolution of our lineage.
“Body size directly affects how an animal relates to its environment, and no trait has a wider range of biological implications,” states the study lead, Mark Grabowski.
“There appears to be a decrease in overall body size within our lineage, rather than size simply staying the same or getting bigger with time, which goes against how we generally think about evolution,” he continued.
Detailed study finds are available in a paper in the journal Nature Communications.
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