Taryn Wilton of Westland High School asks :-

Humans descended from apes but what was before the apes?

Michael Green, an anthropologist at the University of Otago, responded.

I must begin with a bit of a correction. Strictly speaking, humans did not descend from the apes as we know them today, the gibbons, orang-utans, gorillas and chimpanzees. These primates have their own evolutionary history that spans millions of years. In fact, humans and apes (especially the gorillas and the chimps) share a common ancestor that probably lived some 5 to 15 million years ago. Unfortunately, there is very little fossil evidence from this time period and so we don't know much about what this common ancestor looked like or how it behaved. However, we have fossils from either side of this time period - a fossil called Aegyptopithecus lived around 22 million years ago, and it is the common ancestor of all African monkeys, all the apes and humans.

On the other side of the barrier we have a new fossil find announced in 1994. It is called Australopithecus ramidus and dates to around 4.5 million years ago. This is the first of our ancestors that we don't share with any other primate, either monkey or ape. It is exclusively our ancestor, but it is not yet human. Because of this, we can refer to it as a hominid, which means it is human-like.

Therefore, before the apes (or the ape ancestors), there were creatures which are the ancestors of both monkeys and apes (and humans).