Recently Discovered Ancient Fossils May Be the 'Missing Link' Between Apes and Humans

Fossils from a new species of ape have been discovered in Bavaria, and the discovery may shed light on how the ancestors of humans may have evolved to walk on two legs.

The fossil of the great ape was unearthed with complete limb bones. He lived during the Miocene about 11.62 million years ago.

"The finds in southern Germany are a milestone in palaeoanthropology, because they raise fundamental questions about our previous understanding of the evolution of the great apes and humans," Professor Madelaine Böhme from the University of Tübingen told BBC News.

Böhme also said this ape could be the best model we have to the "missing link" between apes and humans.

The species was named Danuvius guggenmosi by the paleontologists. "Danuvius" is derived from the Celtic-Roman river god and "guggenmosi" is to honor Sigulf Guggenmos, who discovered the site where they found the fossils.

Böhme said when Danuvius was alive, the area was a hot, flat landscape with forests and rivers not far from the Alps.

A new study found that the ape creature may have used an unusual locomotion never seen until now, which could reveal how the ancestors of humans may have evolved to walk on two feet.

The fossils—two females, a juvenile and a male, who had the most complete set of limbs—were discovered in a clay pit in Bavaria between 2015 and 2018.

The male animal's build, posture and locomotion are unique traits among primates. His strong ape-like arms were made for swinging from tree limbs but he also possessed human-like legs.

Paleontologists unearthed 21 bones of the most complete partial skeleton of a male Danuvius. Atypeek/Getty

Researchers said Danuvius didn't favor either its arms or legs in movement but appeared to use them equally. Böhme and her colleagues suggested this newly identified type of locomotion—which they called "extended limb clambering"—could be the ancestral form of movement for both modern great apes and humans, reports Live Science.

One of the key traits that distinguish humans from our closest living relatives like modern great apes, chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans is how we walk upright on our feet. This allowed us to free our hands for using tools, which ultimately helped humanity spread across the planet.

In contrast, modern great apes possess long arms and traits that allow them to swing from branches using only their arms, which is called brachiation. Chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas practice knuckle-walking.

The new research and where the fossils were found suggests our upright posture could have originated in a common ancestor of great apes and humans who lived in Europe. For many years, scientists thought those ancestors originated from Africa.

Understanding how humans came to walk on two feet promises to answer many of the fundamental questions about the evolution of our species.