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University of Iowa News Release

 

June 17, 2009

Photo: Anthropologist Russell Ciochon, shown here with a gorilla skull, has come to believe that a 1.9-million-year-old fossilized jaw fragment -- described by Ciochon and colleagues as early human 14 years ago -- may actually be from an unknown species of ape. (Photo by Tom Jorgensen, University of Iowa)

UI anthropologist: fossil may be from mystery ape, rather than early human

In an essay that appears in the opinion section of the June 18 issue of the journal Nature, Russell L. Ciochon, professor and chair of anthropology in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, writes that a 1.9-million-year-old fossilized jaw fragment from Longgupo in Sichuan province, China, described by Ciochon and colleagues as early human in a Nature paper 14 years ago may actually be from an unknown species of ape.
 
The 1995 paper suggested that a distinctly African species of early human arrived to Southeast Asia, and then evolved locally to become Homo erectus. Now, Ciochon believes that Homo erectus arrived from the west (likely Africa), and that the more primitive fossil in China represents a chimpanzee-sized local ape.

Ciochon changed his mind for three reasons. First, new dates make some southeast Asian Homo erectus fossils nearly as old as the more primitive Longgupo jaw. Second, he and Southeast Asian colleagues are finding more Longgupo-like fossils that are definitively ape. Third, after a decade of work on Homo erectus fossils from Java by Ciochon, it became clear that the Longgupo jaw fragment did not fit the early human dental pattern.

But if the fossil is from an unknown ape, it raises a new question: Is there only one mystery ape or possibly more?

Ciochon writes that the next step is to consider the fossil together with other, similar mystery ape fossils to see how they fit into the evolutionary history of the range of Southeast Asian apes.
 
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One,
Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Russell L. Ciochon, professor and chair of anthropology, russell-ciochon@uiowa.edu; Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, , gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu