Study Suggests that 'Enigmatic Hominoid' Not a Tree Climber and Not an Upright Walker

The "enigmatic hominoid," an extinct primate that lived several million years ago, has baffled scientists who have struggled to settle on the creature's means on locomotion.
John Loeffler
S. Bambi/University of Florence

An international team of scientists have concluded that Oreopithecus bambolii, commonly known as the "enigmatic hominoid," once native to Sardinia and Tuscany and whose means of locomotion have baffled scientists for decades was neither a tree climber nor did it walk upright.

'Enigmatic hominoid' of Italy neither a tree climer nor an upright walker

In a recently published study in Proceedings of the Naional Academy of Sciences, an international team of researchers have suggested that Oreopithecus bambolii, the so-called "enigmatic hominoid" which once lived in Sardinia and Tuscany between 6.7 and 8.3 million years ago, did not walk upright and did not climb trees as had been previously suggested.


First discovered as far back as 1872, the primate has divided the scientific community with some suggesting that the primate was a tree climber, while others disagreed and believed that it had evolved the ability to walk upright. The new study, which looked at the mot intact fossil skeleton of the creature and compared it to other ancient and modern primates and determined that it did neither.

According to the paper, the torso of the primate closely resembles a modern gibbon, that it has five lumbar vertebrae rather than the four found in modern great apes, and that its pelvis differed from all other known primates, having a transverse orientation of the iliac wings.

They believe that the pelvis is more conducive to upright walking than for modern great apes, but not enough for it to actually have done so, while its torso and pelvic stiffness wasn't sufficient for it to be able to climb trees. This led the researchers to conclude that since the creature lived on an island, it found it could safely walk on the ground and so eventually lost its ability to climb trees, but that it never developed the ability to walk upright, since it never found it necessary.

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