|Reconstruction of Pierolapithecus catalaunicus|
Moyà-Solà et al., 2004
Pierolapithecus catalaunicus is an extinct species of primate which lived about 13 million years ago during the Miocene in what is now Hostalets de Pierola, Catalonia (Spain), giving the name to the species. It is believed by some to be a common ancestor of both modern humans and the other great apes, or at least a species that is closer to a common ancestor than any previous fossil discovery.
The species was described by a team of Spanish paleoanthropologists led by Salvador Moyà-Solà on the basis of a fossil specimen discovered in December 2002. The finding was first reported in the journal Science on November 19, 2004.
As do humans and other great apes, Pierolapithecus had specialized adaptations for tree climbing: a wide, flat ribcage, a stiff lower spine, flexible wrists, and shoulder blades that lay along its back. It also has plesiomorphic monkey-like features such as a sloped face and short fingers and toes. (Gibbons and Old World monkeys show more generalized characteristics.)
That Pierolapithecus would be ancestral to modern great apes is debated largely because this great ape was found in the Iberian Peninsula, while most of the fossil evidence of the evolution of hominids and hominins has been located in East Africa and Southeast Asia. Because, however, the Mediterranean Sea contracted several times in the past, permitting migration of terrestrial fauna between Africa and Europe, it is possible that Pierolapithecus, or its descendants, could have lived on both continents; see the Messinian salinity crisis animation.
Rather than a full common ancestor, it has been suggested that the species may be ancestral to humans, chimpanzees and gorillas but not orangutans, given certain characteristics of the face.
- Rincon, Paul (18 November 2004). "'Original' great ape discovered". BBC. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
- Moya-Sola, S.; Köhler, M.; Alba, D. M.; Casanovas-Vilar, I.; Galindo, J. (2004). "Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, a New Middle Miocene Great Ape from Spain". Science. 306 (5700): 1339–1344. doi:10.1126/science.1103094. PMID 15550663.