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It's not often that a fossil truly rewrites human evolution, but the recent discovery of an ancient extinct ape has some scientists very excited. According to its discoverers, Danuvius guggenmosi combines some human-like features with others that look like those of living chimpanzees. They suggest that it would have had an entirely distinct way of moving that combined upright walking with swinging from branches. And they claim that this probably makes it similar to the last shared ancestor of humans and chimps.
We are not so sure. Looking at a fossilized animal's anatomy does give us insights into the forces that would have operated on its bones and so how it commonly moved. But it's a big leap to then make conclusions about its behavior, or to go from the bones of an individual to the movement of a whole species. The Danuvius fossils are unusually complete, which does provide some vital new evidence. But how much does it really tell us about how our ancestors moved around?
Danuvius - Arms - Legs - Feet - Floor
Danuvius has long and mobile arms, habitually extended (stretched out) legs, feet which could sit flat on the floor, and big toes with a strong gripping action. This is a unique configuration. Showing that a specimen is unique is a prerequisite for classifying it as belonging to a separate, new species that deserves its own name.
But what matters in understanding the specimen is how we interpret its uniqueness. Danuvius's discoverers go from describing its unique anatomy to proposing a unique pattern of movement. When we look at living apes, the relationship between anatomy and movement is not so simple.
Danuvius - Fossils - Individuals - Group - Specimens
The Danuvius find actually includes fossils from four individuals, one of which is nearly complete. But even a group of specimens may not be typical of a species more generally. For instance, humans are known for...
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