7.VII: Human Ancestor Gallery

This picture gallery picks up where the Chapter 8 gallery left off.  Some of the best paleoart is from the Chapter 7 time period, including lifelike sculptures and masks of fossil apes.  For the art that is copyrighted, I can only provide text links.  I selected good images, so I recommend following those links too!

Monkeys such as Aegyptopithecus were basal catarrhines about 30 MYA. They were found strictly in Africa, which at that time was isolated from Eurasia.

The earliest known animal considered to be an ape is Rukwapithecus, which was found in Africa 25 MYA.

Click here for an image of Rukwapithecus

Today’s apes include orangutans and gibbons in Asia, gorillas and chimpanzees in Africa, and humans.

Proconsul was one of the earliest fossil apes, thriving in eastern Africa 20 MYA.  We know it’s an ape by its lack of tail.  Its teeth were becoming ape-like.  Otherwise, its body was very monkey-like in size and form.

Proconsul fossil ape hominoid

The golden age of apes was the mid-Miocene of 12 – 17 MYA, when climate was warmer and some species migrated to Europe and Asia.  The upper body went through modifications for hanging rather than walking on branches, while the lower body was starting to allow for some upright postures. 1  Our mid-Miocene ancestors were the first great apes, closer in size to chimpanzees than gibbons.

Pierolapithecus hominid great ape

By 7 MYA, apes such as “Toumai” (a Sahelanthropus) showed evidence of erect bipedalism and smaller canines, good indications that they were closer to humans than to any other living ape.

Sahelanthropus tchadensis sculpture

“Ardi”, an Ardipithecus from 5 MYA, is one of the most famous 21st-century fossil discoveries.  Her exceptionally complete skeleton, along with many other Ardipithecus specimens, enabled a paleoartist to draw a detailed full-body sketch.

Click here for the authoritative full-body drawing of Ardi

The Australopithecus genus evolved in eastern Africa about 4 MYA and survived until the appearance of Homo 2 MYA.  Australopithecus is widely assumed to be Homo’s parent genus.  There were several Australopithecus species.  The one shown here is A. afarensis (Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania c. 3 – 4 MYA), the most well-known due to its highly complete representative fossil specimen, “Lucy”.

Ardipithecus afarensis Lucy sculpture

Australopithecus africanus lived 3 MYA in South Africa.

Australopithecus africanus sculpture

By this time, Australopithecines were about 99% genetically human.  These ancestors fascinate us because they represent the transition from wild animals to human beings.

  1. Hammond et al, “Middle Miocene Pierolapithecus provides a first glimpse into early hominid pelvic morphology”, Journal of Human Evolution vol. 64 issue 6 (June 2013), pp. 658-666, abstract / pay site available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047248413000742 (accessed 5/14/2017).
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