Bigfoot was created through genetic manipulation
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) already suspected that humans descended from beings similar to apes. According to him, these ancestors most likely lived in Africa. Because the most similar to us among today's monkeys are the African great apes gorilla and chimpanzee. In Darwin's time, anthropologists were unaware of any African fossils from prehistoric humans or their primate ancestors.
What the discoverer of today's theory of evolution wrote about our origins, paleontologists were able to largely confirm in the course of the 20th century. In addition to many fossils, genetic studies now suggest that the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived in Africa about 6 to 8 million years ago. However, if you ask where this line came from, the picture becomes more complex. For a time paleoanthropologists believed that these long-vanished primates were also of African origin. However, a large number of newer fossils now refer to Eurasia. Although the great apes originated in Africa, they then produced the so-called great apes in Eurasia.
Today only a few species of great apes live in the last refuges. But in the Miocene, the epoch 22 to 5.5 million years ago, around a hundred species existed. They were the predominant primates and must have populated large areas of the Old World. Paleontologists find their fossils across Eurasia from France to China and in Africa from Kenya to Namibia.
With regard to human evolution, the great apes are of particular interest. They include the African species chimpanzee, bonobo (dwarf chimpanzee) and gorilla, as well as the orangutan native to Southeast Asia. The gibbons, the small apes also living in Southeast Asia, are more distantly related to humans. Great ape fossils have so far only been found in Eurasia - in western, central and southern Europe, in Turkey, in southern Asia and in China. No such remains have been found in Africa so far. In light of this, Darwin would surely have assumed that the primate family, which includes humans and great apes, that is, the hominids, originated in Eurasia.
In retrospect, the hominid's area of origin may not come as a surprise. In the Miocene, Eurasia may have provided an ideal experimental field for this evolution. At that time, migrations of primate groups, climate changes, tectonic faults and ecological change occurred to an extent that has never been seen again. A variety of great apes developed under these conditions. Of these, two lines of great apes were later able to colonize Southeast Asia on the one hand and Africa on the other.
I will present this development here in broad outline. After a brief outline of the research history of the last two centuries, I will first describe the early great apes from the beginning of the Miocene in Africa. Belonged to them Proconsulthat represents them well. Then I tell how the great apes emerged from one of the African lines in Eurasia. Finally, I come to human evolution.
In 1812, the French naturalist Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), the founder of paleontology, claimed that there was no fossil human being, just as there were no fossil primates. In fact, the scientists at the time collected bones from mastodons and other extinct animals. But they did not yet know of any fossils of primates from bygone ages. What Cuvier didn't know: he himself had described a lemur from the limestone quarries in Paris. He named the animal Adapis parisiensisbut thought it was a primitive ungulate.
Dryopithecus: first find of our presumed ancestor
The first fossil of an equally correctly classified higher primate was described by Cuvier's pupil Édouard Lartet (1801-1871) in 1837. This monkey, of which a jawbone was found in southeastern France, is called by experts today Pliopithecus. Based on this find and others, scientists realized that the forests of Europe must have been inhabited by primates at one point. The first fossil great apes, Dryopithecus, classified Lartet almost twenty years later. The fossil came from the French Pyrenees.
In the decades that followed, paleontologists recovered the remains of ancient apes in many places: in Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Georgia and Turkey. In addition to numerous jaw fragments and teeth, they also discovered a few bones from limbs. In the 1920s, however, sensational finds drew the researchers' attention to South Asia - India and Pakistan - and Africa, especially Kenya. The earlier discoveries were largely forgotten.
Discoveries in the past twenty years rekindled interest in the great apes of western Eurasia. Some of these fossils are complete enough to give an idea of what these primates looked like. This also allows conclusions to be drawn about their relationship to today's great apes and humans.
So far, scientists from Africa and Eurasia know forty genera of great apes from the Miocene, some of them several species. In the early Miocene, in the phase 22 to 17 million years ago, 14 species lived in their original homeland, Africa, as far as we know today. Because fossil finds are always patchy, there must have been significantly more. Apparently diversity was typical of the great apes from the start. As soon as they appear in the fossil strata in Africa, they appear in several species. Already in the early Miocene they varied greatly in size. Some weighed barely three kilograms, little more than a house cat. The largest species came close to gorillas at eighty kilograms. Their diet was even broader than that of their surviving relatives. Most of them ate mostly ripe fruit. Some specialized in leaves, others in fruits and nuts.
Those first great apes differ most from today's ones in terms of posture and mode of locomotion. The modern species master very different forms of locomotion, from the far reaching swinging swing of the gibbons to the ankle gait of the gorilla on the ground. In contrast, the early great apes climbed quadruped on the branches and were therefore quite limited in their possibilities.
It had to do with her physique. The genus is best known Proconsul, by which paleontologists found remarkably complete fossils on the Kenyan peninsula Rusinga in Lake Nyanza, the former Lake Victoria (see Spectrum of Science 3/1989, p. 102). Scientists are currently distinguishing between four Proconsul-Species. The smallest weighed ten, the largest possibly eighty kilograms.
Proconsulgives a good idea of how these monkeys were built and how they got around. They no longer had a tail. On the other hand, their hips, shoulders, wrists and ankles as well as hands and feet were already more flexible than in animal monkeys. The pronounced agility of the modern great apes and humans was already heralded to a certain extent. Thanks to this, today's great apes are able to swing through the branches in a unique way. Later, humans used the high mobility of their hands, among other things, to make tools.
Besides, preserved Proconsuland his hominid contemporaries have a number of more original features. The spine, pelvis and arms were in some ways very similar to those of animal monkeys. Like their ape ancestors, the first great apes were better equipped to climb branches than to hang on with their arms and swing forward - the enigmatic species Morotopithecusmaybe excepted. The great apes had to shed many of these traditional features before they could adopt new modes of locomotion.
Most of the early African forms soon died out. However, one of them must have been the forerunner of the species that first came to Eurasia around 16.5 million years ago. Maybe this was an ancestor Afropithecusfrom Kenya. The sinking sea level created a land bridge to the Arabian Peninsula, over which many mammals immigrated to Eurasia, including elephants, rodents, pigs and antelopes as well as a few exotic species, such as aardvark, as well as primates.
Apparently the great apes crossed Saudi Arabia at that time. Fossils come from there Heliopithecus, the Afropithecusso closely resembles that some researchers put them together in one genus. Both had teeth with a thick layer of enamel, so they ate hard and tough food, such as nuts or hard-shelled seeds. The strong teeth in particular could have allowed their descendants to conquer Eurasia. In its forests these great apes may have found food sources that one Proconsulwould not have been accessible. When the land connection to Africa disappeared half a million years later, they had already adjusted well to their new home.
Rapid expansion in Eurasia
When organisms penetrate a new habitat for the first time, they often produce many new species there in a short period of time. That seems to have been the case here too. Within just 1.5 million years, geological momentarily, the great apes adapted in many ways to their new environment and formed at least eight new forms in Eurasia.
This vigorous development provided the background for the evolution of the great apes. The researchers are only now gradually beginning to understand the special importance of Eurasia for human evolution.
Paleontologists used to believe that only 15 million years ago had great apes with strong jaws and large molars, i.e. with more developed teeth than those of Heliopithecusand Afropithecus, Reached Eurasia. That would be about the time when such forms first appeared in Africa. This coincided with the thesis that such primates originated in Africa and only later spread to the north. More recent fossil finds indicate that great apes with advanced dentition existed much earlier in Eurasia. My colleagues and I described 2001 and 2003 Griphopithecus. This comparatively modern primate is known from 16.5 million year old deposits from Engelswies in southwest Germany and Turkey. This enabled us to date the beginning of the Eurasian history of the great apes back over a million years.
Such modern great apes apparently did not live in Africa 17 to 15 million years ago. Rather, they still looked as original at that time as in the early Miocene. Only a few genera, for example Kenyapithecus, had perhaps adapted more to the soil life in their physique. The evolution of new cranial and dentition features seems to have started from some Eurasian hominoids. Only later, when the sea level had sunk again, did more modern forms populate Africa.
Towards the end of the Middle Miocene, almost 13 million years ago, there was evidence of great apes living in Eurasia, in Europe the one discovered by von Lartet Dryopithecusand in Asia Sivapithecus. Like their cousins today, these animals had a chewing device that was ideal for chopping soft, ripe fruit. In the long, strong jaws there were large incisors, shovel-shaped, non-tusk-shaped canines, and high premolar and molar teeth with a relatively simple chewing surface. Their shortened snout suggests that seeing became more important than smelling.
Early intelligence in the great apes
As can be deduced from the fine structure of the teeth, these primates evidently grew as slowly as modern great apes in their youth. Otherwise their life may have been comparable: with late sexual maturity, long lifespan, raising only one boy and so on. In fact, it seems that if these early great apes were alive today, they could intellectually stand up to their modern relatives. Dryopithecusprobably had as large a brain as a chimpanzee of the same size. Of SivapithecusUnfortunately there is a lack of meaningful fossils. But since the form of life and the size of the brain are usually closely related, he must also have been quite intelligent.
The structure of the limbs of these two primates was similar in many ways to that of great apes. Above all, it is important that their extremities were very suitable for shackling. This is particularly evident in the fully extensible elbow joint that stabilizes the arm throughout the entire movement. Among the primates only the great apes have this characteristic. This allows you to hang by your arms alone, even on one arm, and move in swings through the branches with alternating use of both arms. This anatomical peculiarity allows humans to throw far and precisely. The limbs of Dryopithecushad a number of other adaptations to the shackle, as well as hands and feet, with which he could grip excellently. It therefore appears to have moved through the trees in a similar way to the living great apes.
The way of getting around Sivapithecusis not so clear. In addition to signs of shaking, there are also signs of a four-footed gait. Most likely, this primacy had its own type of locomotion, for which there is no example among today's forms. His line was very common in Asia. It branched off in Turkey, Pakistan, India, Nepal, China and Southeast Asia. Of SivapithecusAccording to the prevailing view, the orangutan comes from. The "forest man" of the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra would be the only living descendant of this successful group.
A similarly rich species formation took place in western Eurasia. The earliest species of this genus was Dryopithecusfontanithat Lartet had described. Several more species appeared within about 3 million years. More specialized forms soon followed. In 2 million years, four new ones formed from northwestern Spain to Georgia Dryopithecus-Types out.
However, the systematic position of Dryopithecuswithin the hominoids. Some researchers consider it a relative of the Asian great apes. Others refer to him as the ancestor of all of today's great apes. According to my own investigations - which probably include most of the characteristics - should Dryopithecusnext with Ouranopithecusbe related to a primate from Greece. Either of these is likely the ancestor of today's African great apes and humans.
Face comparison with the first pre-humans
In 1999, my colleagues and I found a very interesting thesis in Rudabánya (Hungary) Dryopithecus-Skull. In this fossil, the face and brain skull are still connected for the first time. This monkey had a long, low brain capsule, a flattened nose, and an enlarged lower face - like African great apes and early pre-humans. The facial profile of Dryopithecus, which inclines downwards in an external curve, as in the case of the African hominids. The profile of orangutans, on the other hand, is deepened and points upwards, as is that of gibbons and von Proconsul. Basically, the skull is reminiscent of Dryopithecusstrongly on that of young chimpanzees. Paleontologists often find this to be the case with parent species. Accordingly, the distinctive faces of chimpanzees, gorillas and the early human forms emerged in a modification of the simpler basic plan, the Dryopithecusand which is also evident in young African great apes.
It is essential to mention it Oreopithecus. This strange ape lived 7 million years ago, in the late Miocene, in what is now Tuscany, which was then a forested island region. The researchers know the skeleton of no other fossil great ape in Eurasia so well. First described OreopithecusIn 1872 the French paleontologist Paul Gevais. Of all the fossil primates of the Old World, both great apes and animal monkeys, this line had specialized most strongly in leaf nutrition.
Falls in appearance Oreopithecuswith his big body and small brain completely out of the ordinary. He may have been a primordial common ancestor of gibbons and great apes. Or maybe he was an early Great Ape or even a close relative of Dryopithecus. Meike Köhler and Salvador Moyà Solà from the Miquel Crusafont Institute for Paleontology in Barcelona claim Oreopithecuswalked upright, on two legs, on tree trunks and had human-like hands with which he could grasp precisely. Most paleontologists believe, however, that this animal was excellently adapted to hand-hacking. Anyway: Oreopithecusis a very good example of how successful the Eurasian great apes were and how diverse they were able to adapt to new environments.
Why did most of these lines die out? And how did a few of them survive, from which today's hominids descended? Paleoclimatology provides answers to this. The great apes owed their heyday in Eurasia throughout the Middle Miocene to lush subtropical forest vegetation and the always warm climate. They found ripe fruit at any time. The high forest formed several canopy floors, which made it easy to get on through the branches.
In the late Miocene, however, there was a massive climate change when the Alps, the Himalayas and the mountains of East Africa pushed further, the ocean currents shifted and the polar ice caps began to form. In Asia, the monsoon cycles that still exist today arose. East Africa was now getting drier and Europe got a temperate climate. Apparently the Eurasian great apes could not withstand the climate change. Only the lines of Sivapithecus and Dryopithecussurvived - by moving to areas south of the Tropic of Capricorn. From China they moved to Southeast Asia, from Europe to the African tropics. They remained in environmental conditions similar to those to which they had adapted in Eurasia.
This scenario could provide clues as to how and why humans walked upright. Paleontologists still don't know what mode of locomotion it came from. So far there are no fossil series that clearly show this.
Proper course and beginnings of human evolution
Two models in particular are discussed. According to one, the immediate ancestors of the first upright prehistoric humans tended to hang around and climb in trees, according to the other, they mostly walked on the ground, perhaps in an ankle-walk similar to chimpanzees, in which the hands did not touch the earth with the inner surface, but with the Outside of the knuckles.
The ancestors of the African great apes left Eurasia when the dense forests gave way to sparse trees and grasslands. In my opinion, they survived by acquiring certain adaptations for locomotion on the ground. In order to get to Africa at all, the ankle gait in particular should have been essential. Some branches of these primates returned to dense forests in Africa. Others settled in various more or less loosely forested landscapes. A branch eventually penetrated into open terrain and became a pure ground dweller.
The evolution of the great apes and humans was characterized from the beginning by flexibility in adaptation. Thanks to an innovation in the chewing apparatus, great apes were able to leave Africa in the early Miocene and enter a multitude of new environments. In Eurasia, the great apes succeeded by a series of skeletal changes to establish themselves with their individual branches in very different conditions. In addition, large brains helped them to cope with complex social and ecological situations.
With these conditions a few of them survived the dramatic climate change in the late Miocene and about 9 million years ago they came back to Africa. The lineage from which today's great apes and humans emerged was in a sense pre-designed to cope with drastic environmental changes. It is not too surprising that one of the species developed a particularly large brain and became a technical genius.
Twenty years ago, as a student, I became interested in fossil great apes. Even then it became clear to me that human evolution can only be fathomed if it is clear when, where, how and from what it originated. In order to interpret the physique and behavior of the first humans, scientists usually use today's great apes for comparison, with great profit.
However, the great apes have evolved since they split off from our last common ancestor. The study of the species of the Miocene not only offers a unique view of the ancestors of today's hominids including humans. It also offers insights into the background to the evolution of modern forms.
Now that it has been established that the African great apes emerged from the European ones, the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees can also be sketched. It must have been a chimpanzee-like forest dweller who walked ankle on the ground and mainly fed on fruits, but also killed and ate smaller animals. He used tools and lived in very complex, dynamic hordes - like chimpanzees and humans.
Many questions are still open. So far, only teeth and jaw fragments exist of many fossil apes, which say little or nothing about their stature, brain size, posture and movement. There is also between the European forerunners of the African great apes, so Dryopithecusand Ouranopithecus, and the African forms a considerable fossil gap geographically and temporally.
Even with the first presumed pre-humans, the human family tree - or better known as the family tree - is still quite unclear as to which species belong to this species. So wore the recently discovered, 6 to 7 million years old Sahelanthropus tchadensis small canines from Chad. Perhaps the occipital hole was a little more under the skull, which would be a sign of an upright gait. In addition, this primacy had some shadows
rumen features, including a small brain, a protruding face, a flat forehead and strong neck muscles.
A mixture of human and chimpanzee-like traits also appears in the 6 million year old Orrorin tugenensisfrom Kenya. The same applies to the 5.8 million year old Ardipithecus ramidus kadabbafrom Ethiopia. The discoverers of these fossils consider the species they found to be an ancestor of humans (see Spektrum der Wissenschaft 9/2003, p. 46). In and of itself, the data is not sufficient to be able to say whether it really was a very early pre-human being, an ancestor of the modern African great apes, or a representative of extinct great ape lineages. In my opinion, the first definite pre-human was the 4.4 million year old Ardipithecus ramidus ramidusfrom Ethiopia.
Researchers still do not agree on whether the ancestors of the modern great apes originated in Eurasia. But this is not due to insufficient evidence. Rather, some anthropologists understand Darwin's thesis mentioned at the beginning as such that the evolution of the African great apes must have taken place exclusively on the dark continent.
Another objection is that the lack of fossils does not necessarily mean that the species in question did not exist in the area. There are currently no fossil great apes in Africa. This in no way proves that they did not appear there during the period in question. However, paleontologists in Africa know of many fossil sites that are between 14 and 7 million years old. In some of them they found masses of bones from forest animals. No remains of great apes have appeared on any of them. It could be that similar species lived in Africa and Eurasia during the Miocene - but that is unlikely.
From monkey to human. Part 1: Evolution of the primates. From Louis de Bonis. Spectrum of Science, Compact 1, 2001.
Rudabánya: A Late Miocene Subtropical Swamp Deposit with Evidence of the Origin of the African Apes and Humans. By László Kordos and David R. Begun in: Evolutionary Anthropology, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2002, p. 45.
The Oldest Eurasia hominoid. By Elzmar P.J. Heizmann and David R. Begun in: Journal of Human Evolution, Vol. 41, 2001, p. 463.
- In the Miocene, between 22 and 5.5 million years ago, there were around a hundred species of great apes. There are only five left today.
- The great apes originally originated in Africa. But the line of great apes, from which humans also descend, evidently developed in Eurasia.
- Probably the orangutan descends from an ancient Eurasian lineage to which Sivapithecus belonged. The ancestor of the African great apes and humans may have been the family group of Dryopithecus.
- Hominids: according to the more recent view, great apes (orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo) and humans
- Small apes: gibbons
- Hominoids: small and large creatures and humans
What are great apes?
How do the great apes differ from other primates?
They all don't have a tail. The trunk and limbs therefore have to take on new tasks. So humans and great apes have particularly flexible limbs. You can raise your arms above your head and even dangle them. All great apes have longer and stronger arms than legs for this purpose. In humans, the relationship is reversed in adaptation to the upright gait.
Because of the function of the arms, the great apes also have a broad rib cage, a shortened lumbar region, quite flexible hips and ankles and strong grasping feet, and they hold themselves more upright than most other primates. They're also pretty big. The great apes in particular take many years to grow and mature late. After humans, they have the largest brains of all primates. In almost every respect they outperform all other mammals in terms of intelligence.
Proconsul is considered to be the first undisputed great ape. He lived in Africa 19 million years ago. He obviously no longer had a tail, as can be seen from the lower spine. However, it still had a relatively small brain and was not as flexible in the joints as the modern species.
The Yeti - Myth and Reality
Also, some serious scientists believe that Sivapithecus has another living descendant besides the orangutan, a shaggy, upright non-human primate of enormous stature that people claim to have seen in various parts of Central Asia and North America. His names - such as Yeti, Snowman, Bigfoot, Raksi-Bombo - are as numerous as the evidence is scarce.
Followers of the yeti refer to any hair, droppings, footprints, blurry photos or video recordings. Mostly they name Gigantopithecus as his closest ancestor. This great ape, twice to three times the size of a gorilla, lived, as far as is known, in China and Southeast Asia until about 300,000 years ago.
In fact, such a colossus could still exist somewhere. What is puzzling, however, is that great apes, which appeared 20 million years ago and were no larger than small cats, left fossils behind. So far, not a single bone has existed from the Yeti, even though the monster should weigh half a ton. Everyone of us researchers would love to see a living snowman. He can hardly hope for himself.
From: Spectrum of Science 12/2003, page 58
© Spektrum der Wissenschaft Verlagsgesellschaft mbH
This article is included in Spectrum of Science 12/2003
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