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Ancient ape swings into kin clash.

Dryopithecus, an extinct ape that lived in western and southern Europe between about 9 million and 12 million years ago, finds itself embroiled in a scientific tug-of-war over its evolutionary affiliations.

Based on an analysis of Dryopithecus fossils found at a Hungarian site, David R. Begun of the University of Toronto classed the creature as a close relative to later African apes and hominids, the evolutionary family that includes humans (SN: 9/26/92, p. 198).

But a study of Dryopithecus skull fragments uncovered at a Spanish site in 1991 indicates that the ancient ape shows the closest anatomical ties to the orangutan and its fossil predecessors in Asia. In particular, the cheekbones of Dryopithecus and orangutans display a similar thickness and shape, assert paleontologists Salvador Moya Sola and Melke Kohler of M. Crusafont Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona, Spain.

In the Oct. 7 Nature, the two investigators offer a theory of how Dryopithecus evolved. Perhaps 15 million years ago, an as-yet-unidentified ape traveled from Africa to Eastern Europe and then gradually moved on to Asia, they proposed. Variations on that animal's original anatomical theme then evolved in different regions. Dryopithecus emerged in Europe, and its fossil relatives Lufengpithecus and Sivapithecus appeared in China and South Asia, respectively. Remains of the latter two creatures show an even closer resemblance to modern orangutans, the researchers contend.

Controversy over the evolution of Dryopithecus will undoubtedly continue, assert Lawrence Martin of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Peter Andrews of the Natural History Museum in London. Excavations have turned up only a few good facial specimens of Dryopithecus and other ancient apes they write n an accompanying editorial.
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Title Annotation:scientists differ about classification of Dryopithecus ape
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 23, 1993
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