What did the last common ancestor between humans and apes look like?

By Mike Fishmore | May 14, 2024

Physical characteristics

Humans share a common ancestor with apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons, dating back to the Miocene epoch spanning from 23 million to 5 million years ago. Despite the lack of physical remains of this mysterious creature, there is speculation about its appearance.

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The unanswered question revolves around the size and physical characteristics of our last common ancestor (LCA), including details about its skull, brain, limbs, and fingers based on the available evidence. While the precise features of the LCA remain elusive, contemporary gorillas and chimpanzees offer the closest living comparisons.

Ape fossils

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Christopher Gilbert, a paleoanthropologist at Hunter College of the City University of New York, highlighted the challenge in determining the size of the LCA due to the scarcity of ape fossils from the relevant period, as outlined in a 2017 study published in the journal Nature. Early or "stem" apes varied greatly in size, ranging from small gibbon-like species to larger primates approaching the size of gorillas.