7.VII: Human Ancestor Gallery

Some of the best paleoart is from the Chapter 7 timescale, including lifelike sculptures and masks of fossil apes.  For the art that is copyrighted, I provide links to the best available photos.

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

Aegyptopithecus 1

The earliest known animal considered to be an ape is Rukwapithecus, which was found in Africa 25 MYA.  This image of Rukwapithecus appears to be copyrighted, so I can not show it here.  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
Proconsul 2

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. 3 Our mid-Miocene ancestors were the first great apes, closer in size to chimpanzees than gibbons. 

Pierolapithecus hominid great ape
This reconstructed specimen, “Pau”, lived 13 MYA in Spain. 4

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
Toumai 5

Ardi”, an Ardipithecus from 4 MYA, is one of the most famous 21st-century fossil discoveries.  Ardi’s authoritative portrait is copyrighted.  I encourage you to click the drawing to see her full body.  Her appearance is strikingly human-but-not-human, like something you’d except in a Planet of the Apes movie.

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. 

Ardipithecus afarensis Lucy sculpture
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”. 6
Australopithecus africanus sculpture
Australopithecus africanus lived 3 MYA in South Africa. 7

By this time, Australopithecines were about 99% genetically human.  These ancestors fascinate us because they represent the transition from wild animals to modern humanity.  They walked upright on feet very much like ours.  They were still semi-arboreal and smaller than humans.  Their faces had pronounced snouts.  Culturally, they probably behaved more like chimps than humans.  They may have been in the early stages of flaking stone tools.

Jump back to Chapter 8 Human Ancestor Gallery

Back to Section 7.VI: Summary

Up to CHAPTER 7: THE LAST FEW TEN-MILLION YEARS

Continue to CHAPTER 6: THE LAST FEW MILLION YEARS

Skip to Chapter 6 Human Ancestor and Archaeology Gallery

  1. Aegyptopithecus image by Nobu Tamura (http://spinops.blogspot.com), CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aegyptopithecus_NT.jpg (accessed and saved 10/27/19).
  2. Proconsul image by Nobu Tamura (http://spinops.blogspot.com) CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Proconsul_NT.jpg (accessed and saved 5/13/17).
  3. Ashley S. Hammond et al., “Middle Miocene Pierolapithecus provides a first glimpse into early hominid pelvic morphology”, Journal of Human Evolution 64(6):658-666 (June 2013),  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0047248413000742 (accessed and saved 10/27/19). 
  4. Pau reconstruction (Pierolapithecus catalaunicas):  Photograph by Catalaalatac, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pierolapithecus_catalaunicus_(Pau)_a_l%27Institut_Catal%C3%A0_de_Paleontologia_Miquel_Crusafont.JPG
  5. Toumai reconstruction:  Sculpture by John Gurche for the Smithsonian Institution.  Photo by Scot Fagerland, 2014.
  6. A. afarensis reconstruction:  Sculpture by John Gurche for the Smithsonian Institution.  Photo by Scot Fagerland, 2014.
  7. A. africanus reconstruction: Sculpture by John Gurche for the Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Scot Fagerland, 2014.
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