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Encyclopedia > Great ape

Australopithecus africanus
Hominid Reconstruction
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
(unranked) Catarrhini
Superfamily: Hominoidea
Family: Hominidae
Gray, 1825

The Hominids (Hominidae) are a biological family which includes humans, extinct species of humanlike creatures and the other great apes: chimpanzees and bonobos (genus Pan), gorillas, and orangutans (genus Pongo).

Originally the group was restricted to humans and their extinct relatives, with the other great apes being placed in a separate family, the Pongidae. However, that definition makes Pongidae paraphyletic, whereas most taxonomists nowadays encourage monophyletic groups. Thus many biologists consider Hominidae to include the Pongidae as the subfamily Ponginae, or restrict the latter to the orangutan and extinct relatives like Gigantopithecus. The taxonomy shown here follows the monophyletic groupings.

Especially close human relatives form a subfamily, the Homininae. Some researchers go so far as to include chimpanzees and gorillas in the genus Homo along with humans, but most genetic evidence suggests the relationships as shown here.

Many extinct hominids have been studied to help understand the relationship between modern humans and the other extant hominids. Some of the extinct members of this family include Gigantopithecus, Orrorin, Ardipithecus, Kenyanthropus, Australopithecus and Paranthropus.

The exact criterion for membership in the Homininae is not clear, but usually includes the species who share more than 97% of their DNA with the modern human genome, and requires the capacity for language and for simple cultures beyond the family or band. The theory of mind, providing the capacity to lie convincingly, is a controversial criterion distinguishing the adult human alone among the hominids. Humans acquire this capacity at about four and a half years of age in our cultures whereas the bonobo, gorilla and chimpanzee never seem to do so. However, without the ability to test whether early members of the Homininae such as australopithecines, Homo erectus, or Homo neanderthalensis had a theory of mind, it is irrational to ignore similarities seen in their living cousins. Despite an apparent lack of real culture and significant physiological differences, some say that the orangutan may also satisfy these criteria. These scientific debates take on political significance for advocates of Great Ape personhood, who some believe have influenced the debates in order to refer to "ape genocide".

In 2002, a 6-7 million year old fossil skull nicknamed "Toumaļ" by its discoverers, and formally classified as Sahelanthropus tchadensis, was discovered in Chad and is possibly the earliest hominid fossil ever found. In addition to its age, Toumaļ, unlike the 3-4 million year younger Australopithecine dubbed "Lucy", has a relatively flat face without the prominent snout seen on other pre-Homo hominids. Some researchers have made the suggestion that this previously unknown species may in fact be a direct ancestor of modern humans (or at least closely related to a direct ancestor). Others contend that one fossil is not enough to make such a claim because it would overturn the conclusions of over 100 years of anthropological study. A report on this finding was published in the journal Nature on July 11, 2002. While some scientists claim that it is merely the skull of a female gorilla, others have called it the most important hominid fossil since Australopithecus.


  • Family Hominidae: great apes and humans
    • Subfamily Ponginae
      • Genus Pongo
        • Bornean Orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus
        • Sumatran Orangutan, Pongo abelii
    • Subfamily Homininae
      • Tribe Gorillini
        • Genus Gorilla
          • Western Gorilla, Gorilla gorilla
          • Eastern Gorilla, Gorilla beringei
      • Tribe Hominini
        • Genus Pan
        • Genus Homo

See also

Wikimedia Commons has multimedia related to:

External links

  • NPR News: Toumaļ the Human Ancestor (http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2002/july/toumai/index.html)
  • Hominid Species (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/species.html) at talkorigins.org

  Results from FactBites:
The Great Apes (383 words)
There are four kinds of great apes: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos.
Apes are larger, have fewer young (and spend a longer time raising them), spend more time upright, and depend more on their eyes than on their noses.
But great apes are born helpless and must be carefully nurtured by their mothers.
Ape - MSN Encarta (1303 words)
Apes are sometimes confused with monkeys, but unlike their smaller primate counterparts, apes do not have tails and their arms are usually longer than their legs.
The great apes include the gorilla, the orangutan, and two species of chimpanzee: the common chimp and the bonobo (sometimes called the pygmy chimpanzee).
Great apes are considerably larger, particularly male gorillas, which can be as tall as 1.8 m (about 6 ft) and weigh up to a quarter ton, making them by far the largest apes alive today.
  More results at FactBites »



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