Humans originated in Europe, not Africa, claims new study

Graecopithecus jaw

New research in the scientific journal PLOS ONE has further indicated that the split of the human lineage occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean and not - as customarily assumed - in Africa.

The findings were published Tuesday.

Present-day chimpanzees are humans' nearest living relatives and where the last chimp-human common ancestor lived is a central and highly debated issue in palaeoanthropology.

According to the generally accepted story of human evolution, the human lineage split from that of apes some 7 million years ago in Africa.

The new interpretation is important not simply because of "geographical bragging rights" explains the Globe and Mail, but because it could help "researchers arrive at a clearer picture of how and why hominins developed a unique set of adaptations, including smaller canine teeth and the ability to walk upright, that would later prove to be key evolutionary steps on the road to humanity".

They found large amounts of Saharan sand in layers dating from the period, suggesting that it lay much further North than today.

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The fossil, officially named Graecopithecus freybergi, was analysed using computer tomography which found that the roots of certain teeth are "partially fused" - a characteristic of early humans.

"I'm open to the idea that early humans lived beyond Africa, but Graecopithecus falls well short of proving it", he said.

Tim White at the University of California, Berkeley, says the new research "tries to resurrect Begun's exhausted argument with a long-known crappy fossil, newly scanned". "It's not the best specimen in the world", David Begun of the University of Toronto, who co-authored the new research, told HISTORY. He does not dispute that Homo erectus emerged in Africa some two million years ago before fanning out across Europe and Asia, evolving into the Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other human cousins. Considering the Graecopithecus fossils hail from the Balkans, the eastern Mediterranean may have given rise to the human lineage, the researchers said.

Retired anthropologist and author Dr Peter Andrews, formerly at the Natural History Museum in London, questioned whether the tooth fossil really was from Graecopithecus. However, other researchers remain unconvinced by the claim. "So there's little basis for accepting the exceptional claim that a 7.2 million year old fossil from Greece is the oldest known human ancestor!" One lower jaw, found in Athens with most teeth still in their sockets, was dated to about 7,175 million years ago, and a single upper second premolar found in Bulgaria, to approximately 7.24 million years ago. It's not scientifically valid to assume that they must have been in Africa because their descendants were there, million of years later.

"Most of my colleagues will always be skeptical of a European origin of modern great apes and humans", he says.

McNulty added that the "weight of evidence" still favours a hominin origin in Africa. Images showed the premolars feature fused roots. Likewise, Graecopithecus might be a hominin, he says, but that can only be confirmed if more fossils are found. Given this discrepancy, it's a feature "that may have evolved independently in several different lineages", he said.

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