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The Sciences

Newly Named Tiny Ape Co-Existed With a Larger Hominid Relative

The discovery of the smallest known hominid plays a role in a much bigger mammal evolution picture.

By Paul SmaglikJun 7, 2024 3:15 PM
Tiny Ape Teeth
Buronius manfredschmidi nov. gen. et sp. photographs. Upper panel: holotype left upper M2 (GPIT/MA/13005), A–occlusal, B–buccal, C–lingual, D–mesial, E–distal. Lower panel: paratype left lower P4 (GPIT/MA/13004), F–occlusal, G–buccal, H–lingual, I–mesial, J–distal. Scale bars equal 10 mm. (Credit: Böhme et al., 2024, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/))

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A team of researchers reported a new species, Buronius manfredschmidi, that they estimated weighted about 20 pounds when it lived about 11 million years ago in what is now southern German, according to a study in PLOS One.

Finding a new species in and of itself is grounds for excitement. But in this case, the focus on size is just the closeup.

Ancient Hominid Company

Pulling the camera back a bit reveals another level of significance. It turns out that B. manfredschmidi had hominid company. The small plant-eating ape almost certainly shared an ecosystem with the omnivorous bipedal ape Danuvius guggenmosi, according to the report. To say that is highly unusual would be an understatement.

There are no fossil sites in the world that documents two hominids sharing an ecosystem,” says Madelaine Böhme of Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, one of the site’s researchers and an author of the paper.

The researchers are confident the two species co-existed because they came from the same excavation layer. How did they manage to get along? Simple. They didn’t compete for the same food.


Read More: Early Humans Didn't Follow A Diet, They Ate For Survival


Turning to Fossil Teeth

The researchers turned to the fossils’ teeth for that answer. The shape of B. manfredschmidi’s teeth and the thickness of its enamel suggest that it consumed leaves. In contrast, D. guggenmosi’s teeth shape and enamel thickness match those of an omnivore’s.

The Hammerschmiede excavation site where the two species lived, about 20 miles north of the Alps, must have provided an ideal set of circumstances for both. The site offered plenty of fresh water, with a series of pools. A wide variety of plants must have afforded ample dining options to the two hominid species with the differing diets.


Read More: Which Animals Did Early Humans Mainly Hunt?


Mammal Diversity

Pulling the camera back further suggests the scope of that diversity. Researchers and a team of about 100 volunteers have been excavating the site since 2011. So far, they’ve found over 150 vertebrate species, including 86 mammal species.

“There are few places in the world today that show similar diversity in mammals,” says Böhme.

That’s notable, because paleontologists have generally turned to Africa as a focal point of ancient biodiversity. But Hammerschmiede project’s riches may turn the focus to Europe — at least during the Miocene Era.

That’s been the goal of the project since its inception, says Böhme, not finding a “spectacular hominid” — much less one that co-existed with another hominid. The new species represents a tiny portion of the 3,000 to 4,000 specimens the team has unearthed per year. But it has been a bonus.

Still, the focus going forward should be to understand exactly how and what particular place and time supported so many species — including the two hominids.

“This high level of diversity is something we need to understand,” Böhme says.

Achieving that will provide the big picture.


Read More: An Introduction to the History of Human Evolution


Article Sources

Our writers at Discovermagazine.com use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:


Before joining Discover Magazine, Paul Smaglik spent over 20 years as a science journalist, specializing in U.S. life science policy and global scientific career issues. He began his career in newspapers, but switched to scientific magazines. His work has appeared in publications including Science News, Science, Nature, and Scientific American.

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