Fact Check

Image Shows Gibbon Skeleton, Illustrating Similarities Between Humans and Other Apes?

The exact timing of human evolution continues to evolve within the scientific community.

Published May 1, 2024

 (Public Domain)
Image courtesy of Public Domain
Claim:
An image authentically shows a gibbon skeleton, illustrating the similarities between humans and other apes.
Context

The image in question is genuine and features a gibbon, a primate known as a "lesser ape." Humans are also considered primates but belong to a subset of species known as the "greater apes." Living hominoids are commonly divided into two families: Hylobatidae (gibbons) and Hominidae (gorillas, chimpanzees and humans).

Showing a skeleton with a humanlike skull and arms that stretch nearly to the ground, an image shared on X (formerly Twitter) in April 2024 claimed to illustrate that "humans are apes." At the time of this writing, the photograph had received more than 830,000 views. 

In the comments section, social media users argued whether the skeleton did, in fact, resemble a human — and to what extent the common characteristics showed that "humans are apes," as the post suggested. 

To find the source of the image, Snopes conducted a reverse image search using Tineye. It revealed that the photograph had been shared online for more than a decade, including on a page hosted by Wikimedia Commons

On that page, the photograph was described as showing the skeleton of an unidentified species of gibbon, a type of ape. The photograph was said to have been taken on Sept. 20, 2006, and the specimen was reportedly housed at the Department of Zoology at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Snopes contacted the institution for more information on the specimen and will update this article accordingly. 

Similar images of gibbon skeletons can be found published by other reputable publications and institutions, including New Scientist, the University of Edinburgh and the University College London

We've rated this claim as "True," as the image authentically shows a gibbon skeleton, and humans and gibbons are both considered apes.

We should clarify the relationship between gibbons and humans and what that means for evolutionary history. Though humans are primates — a group that contains monkeys and apes — our species is not descended from other primates on Earth today, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Gibbons are classified in a group known as the "lesser apes," while humans belong to another subset known as the "great apes." Apes, or living hominoids, are commonly divided into two families: Hylobatidae (gibbons) and Hominidae (gorillas, chimpanzees and humans). 

(Public Domain)

Apes and monkeys share a distant relative that lived an estimated 25 million years ago, the Smithsonian wrote on its Human Origins website.

A fossil described in 2022 in the Journal of Human Evolution determined that a gibbon species was in the forests of southern China more than 7 million years ago. Though the exact timing of human evolution continues to evolve within the scientific community, research published in 2021 suggested that humans diverged from other apes sometime between 6.5 million and 9.3 million years ago.

A diversity of species evolved from that common ancestry and several early humans are thought to have lived at the same time. Today, however, the only surviving species of early humans is ours, Homo sapiens.

Great apes are so named for our large bodies and well-developed brains, the Australian Museum wrote. Apes, including humans, are also identified by their lack of an external tail. Gibbons are in the family Hylobatidae and comprise about 20 species, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare

Sources

Almécija, Sergio, et al. "Fossil Apes and Human Evolution." Science, vol. 372, no. 6542, May 2021, p. eabb4363. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abb4363.

Earliest Gibbon Fossil Unlocks Clues about the History of Apes. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2022/november/earliest-gibbon-fossil-unlocks-clues-about-the-history-of-apes.html. Accessed 29 Apr. 2024.

Frequently Asked Questions | The Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program. 11 July 2022, http://humanorigins.si.edu/education/frequently-asked-questions.

---. 11 July 2022, http://humanorigins.si.edu/education/frequently-asked-questions.

"Gibbons: Facts, Habitat, Diet, and Conservation." IFAW, https://www.ifaw.org/animals/gibbons. Accessed 29 Apr. 2024.

Hominoids - an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/hominoids. Accessed 29 Apr. 2024.

---. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/hominoids. Accessed 29 Apr. 2024.

Ji, Xueping, et al. "The Earliest Hylobatid from the Late Miocene of China." Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 171, Oct. 2022, p. 103251. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2022.103251.

News, Opening Hours Mon-Sun: 9am-9pm Address 1. William StreetSydney NSW 2010 Australia Phone +61 2. 9320 6000 www australian museum Copyright ©. 2024 The Australian Museum ABN 85 407 224 698 View Museum. "Humans and Other Great Apes." The Australian Museum, https://australian.museum/learn/science/human-evolution/humans-are-apes-great-apes/australian.museum/learn/science/human-evolution/humans-are-apes-great-apes/. Accessed 29 Apr. 2024.

Specimen of the Week 213: The Enigmatic Gibbon | UCL UCL Culture Blog. https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/museums/2015/11/09/specimen-of-the-week-213-the-enigmatic-gibbon/. Accessed 29 Apr. 2024.

Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.