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Experts believe a 12 million-year-old species discovered in Germany could be the ‘missing link’ between apes and humans

Frank Jordans and Charlotte Edwards, November 7, 2019 7:00PM AP

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Illustration by artist Paul Newman of 19th Century scientist Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution of Man from the ape. media_cameraIllustration by artist Paul Newman of 19th Century scientist Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution of Man from the ape.

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The remains of an ancient ape-like species* have been unearthed* in Germany and experts think it could be the possible ‘missing link’* between apes and humans.

Scientists are hoping the discovery will help us better understand the evolution* process with the fossilised* bones suggesting early humans began standing upright on two legs millions of years earlier than previously thought.

The international team of researchers found the bones of four individuals, including the partial skeleton of a male ape that lived almost 12 million years ago, in the humid forests of what is now southern Germany.

They noticed the male ape’s bones — which included teeth, parts of the skull, jaw, rib cage and spine along with arm, leg, finger and feet bones — look very similar to modern human bones.

media_cameraBones from the previously unknown primate species Danuvius guggenmosi. Picture: AP

In a paper published by the journal Nature, they concluded* that the previously unknown species — named Danuvius guggenmosi after a Celtic* god — could walk on two legs but also had arms suited to climbing and swinging in trees like an ape.

Madelaine Boehme of the University of Tuebingen, Germany, who led the research said: “It is a missing link. It was astonishing for us to realise how similar certain bones are to humans, as opposed to great apes.

“I personally was most surprised by the amount of Danuvius similarity in the back and shin bones, in contrast to apes. This was totally unexpected to all of us … Danuvius is like an ape and a human in one.

VIDEO: An ape scrolling through Instagram looks very human-like.

Ape using a smartphone

“The ape-like features are the slightly elongated* arms — like bonobos but not as long as a gorilla’s or gibbon’s — and the opposable* big toe.

“But even its elbow joint is not like great apes and resembles humans and small apes.

“This ape would have been able to hang from branches by its arms,” Ms Boehme said.

“However, unlike other apes such as gibbons or orang-utans, which do not use their legs as much as their arms for locomotion*, this species had hind limbs that were held straight and could have been used to walk on.”

media_cameraA bonobos ape. Picture: Sean Brogan/Remembering Great Apes

Like humans, Danuvius had an S-shaped spine to hold its body upright* while standing. Unlike humans, though, it had a powerful, opposable big toe that would have allowed it to grab branches with its foot and safely walk through the treetops.

The findings “raise fundamental* questions about our previous understanding of the evolution of the great apes and humans,” Ms Boehme said.

The question of when apes evolved to walk on two feet has fascinated scientists since Charles Darwin first argued his theory of evolution that they were the ancestors of humans. Previous fossil records of apes with an upright gait* — found in Crete and Kenya — dated only as far back as 6 million years ago.

“This changes our view of early human evolution, which is that it all happened in Africa,” Ms Boehme said.

GLOSSARY

  • species: a breed or race of similar living things capable of having babies
  • unearthed: dug up
  • missing link: a thing that is needed in order to complete a series or breed or provide continuity
  • evolution: the development of different kinds of living organisms from earlier forms throughout history
  • fossilised: preserved remains or traces of plants and animals that lived long ago
  • concluded: arrive at an opinion through research and sensible thinking
  • Celtic: relating to the Celts or their languages
  • elongated: stretched out
  • opposable: capable of facing and touching the other digits on the same hand
  • locomotion: ability to move from one place to another
  • upright: sitting or standing with a straight back
  • fundamental: basic
  • gait: way of walking

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Why do scientists think this species is the missing link?
  2. What is the name of the species?
  3. What is interesting about its toe?
  4. What shaped spine did it have?
  5. Who created the theory of evolution?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Draw a skeleton
Find a picture of a human skeleton and one of a great ape (an outline of the body will be sufficient if you cannot access a skeleton of each one).

Turn an A4 page to landscape view, stick one skeleton/picture on each side of the page.

In the centre draw a picture of what you imagine a Danuvius skeleton might look like. Use information from the article to help you work out which parts are similar to the human skeleton and which are similar to a great ape’s skeleton.

Label your Danuvius skeleton indicating how it is similar to the human and great ape skeleton and what purpose this might have served.

For example; Label the ‘Opposable big toe – to help grab branches when climbing’.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Evolution involves a species changing over several generations. The Danuvius had several characteristics which were different to great apes, the main one being that it was able to walk upright. How would this characteristic have made an impact on how the Danuvius lived compared to the great apes?

Would it have made a difference to the type of food they might have had access to? Where they lived? The predators and dangers they may have encountered? How they cared for their young?

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking


VCOP ACTIVITY
The glossary of terms helps you to understand and learn the ambitious vocabulary being used in the article. Can you use the words outlined in the glossary to create new sentences? Challenge yourself to include other VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) elements in your sentence/s. Have another look through the article, can you find any other Wow Words not outlined in the glossary?


HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you believe humans evolved from apes? Why do you think that?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.

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