Humans split from apes in Europe, not Africa: Study

2017-05-23 22:15


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Miami - Researchers have long believed that humans split from apes some five million years ago in Africa, but a study suggests it happened in Europe far earlier than that.

Just where the last common ancestor between chimps - our closest relatives - and humans existed is a matter of hot debate in the scientific community.

The new hypothesis about the origin of mankind is based on 7.2 million-year-old pre-human remains found in caves in Greece and Bulgaria.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Researchers from France, Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada and Australia analysed the dental roots of two known specimens of the fossil hominid Graecopithecus freybergi.

Using a specialised X-ray known as computer tomography to scan a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar from Bulgaria, they found characteristics suggesting these ape like creatures - nicknamed "El Graeco" - were likely pre-humans, or hominids.

"We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa," said co-author Jochen Fuss, a researcher at the University of Tubingen.

The findings also showed Graecopithecus is far older than the oldest known potential pre-human from Africa - Sahelanthropus from Chad, which is six or seven million years old.

The fossil in Greece was dated to 7.24 million years, while the Bulgarian one was 7.175 million years old, said the report in the journal PLOS ONE.

"This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area", said co-author David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist.

Apes seek out new food sources

Environmental changes may have helped drive the evolution of pre-human species, separate from apes, said co-author Madelaine Bohme, a professor of human evolution at the University of Tubingen.

"The incipient formation of a desert in North Africa more than seven million years ago and the spread of savannahs in southern Europe may have played a central role in the splitting of the human and chimpanzee lineages", said Bohme.

The two fossils were found in sediment that contained red-coloured silts "and could be classified as desert dust", said the report.

"These data document for the first time a spreading Sahara 7.2 million years ago, whose desert storms transported red, salty dusts to the north coast of the Mediterranean Sea in its then form",  it said.

Severe droughts and wildfires may have forced apes to seek out new food sources and begin walking upright more often.

Read more on:    us  |  paleontology

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.