I've heard that apes are our ancestors (ranging from chimpanzee to bonobo to gorilla).

Is this true? Can we live side-by-side with our ancestors? I always thought we used to have a common ancestor with them. In which group would our ancestors be? Homini, Hominidae, ...

  • 2
    Your assumption is correct, the ape remark is a simplification. We have a common ancestor with all species, of course, and our most recent common ancestor is with the chimpanzee. That ancestor was, of course, not exactly a chimpanzee. Sep 19, 2011 at 18:40
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    And would that ancestor be considered an "ape"?
    – Jim
    Sep 19, 2011 at 18:49
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    It's a common mistake that people think that since chimpanzees don't make guns, they didn't evolve since the split. From there to say that we descended from chimpanzees is a small misstep.
    – Jonas
    Sep 19, 2011 at 19:06
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    We are apes...
    – Sklivvz
    Sep 19, 2011 at 19:28
  • @ Downvoters...: Please include a reason why the question is being down-voted so that the OP can have a chance to improve the question.
    – oosterwal
    Sep 19, 2011 at 20:11

2 Answers 2


Summary: Technically, we are apes. Colloquially, we didn't evolve from modern apes: we shared a recent common ancestor with them.

Ancestors [Source]

From Comparative genomics of higher primates (Max Planck Society):

The common chimpanzee and the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee are our closest living relatives, with whom we share a common ancestor that lived 5–7 million years ago.

Humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor with gorillas — the other major species of African apes — that lived 6–8 million years ago, whereas the common ancestor shared with the Asian orangutans lived 12–16 million years ago.

Many species that were more closely-related to humans have lived and become extinct since the time of the chimpanzee- human ancestor. They are collectively called hominins.

One hominin is the Neandertal, whose lineage diverged from ours 300,000–500,000 years ago. Neandertals lived in western Eurasia, sometimes alongside our ancestors, until they became extinct around 30,000 years ago.


  • I hope my added summary is OK.
    – matt_black
    Feb 23, 2012 at 17:43

I found this diagram a while back that helps visualize how this all works.

We are not descended from apes. We are descended from an ape-like ancestor. As David say, people simplify by saying we "descended from apes".

source: http://whozoo.org/mammals/Primates/primatephylogeny.htm

Primate Phylogeny


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