How It Works

New fossil discovery: Does it belong to the last common ancestor of all apes and humans?


Millions of years ago, there was a great evolutionary split between the large apes, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, and the lesser apes, such as gibbons and siamangs. Scientists have now discovered a new species of small ape that they believe to be the last common ancestor to humans (that evolved from large apes) and gibbons, an example of a small ape.

This species has been named Pilobates cataloniae, and was in existence roughly 14 million years ago, before the evolutionary split between large and small apes. This discovery could be hugely significant for our understanding of evolution, filling a gap in the fossil record and also suggesting that the entire ape family tree evolved from a smaller creature than previously thought. The fossil remains belonged to an adult female, which the scientists have nicknamed ‘Laia’, weighing between 4 and 5 kilograms.

Pliobates cataloniae was found to have features of both Hominidae and Holybatidae,, suggesting it was a common ancestor of both



The 70 small fossils that were found were largely fragmented, forcing research to use virtual reconstruction based on high-resolution computed-tomography (CT). Use this specialist computer equipment, scientists were able to discover that the fossils belong to an adult female, roughly the size of a modern day gibbon. Her skull was particularly similar to gibbons, however her arm anatomy, specifically the wrist and the humeroradial joint had the basic design of living hominoids. This anatomy suggests that she was well adapted to climbing through trees and hanging from branches. Base on microscopic marks on her teeth, scientists believe that Laia snacked on soft fruits.

The discovery was made in during the construction of a landfill in Barcelona, Abocador de Can Mata


For more incredible facts, make sure you pick up the latest copy of How It Works. It’s available from all good retailers, or you can order it online from the ImagineShop. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works magazine, make sure you subscribe today!

Plus, take a look at:

Homo Naledi

Did evolution itself cause a mass extinction event?

What is co-evolution?