The New Cradle of Humankind


Our ancient human ancestors may not have split from chimpanzees in the grasslands of East Africa, but in Europe instead. Researchers analyzing fossils of an ancient species of ape discovered in Greece and Bulgaria claim to have found evidence that the two lineages had already diverged by the time it was alive in the Mediterranean, upending what we traditionally thought. It all hinges on the fossils of an ancient ape known as Graecopithecus freybergi. Known from two separate fossils of teeth and partial jaws discovered in the Balkans, the researchers are arguing that the morphology of these teeth show that chimps and humans had already split in Europe some 7.2 million years ago. "While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans including Ardipithecus and Australopithecus," explained Professor Madelaine Böhme, who led the research published in PLOS ONE.

This, she suggested, shows that our lineage had already diverged from that of chimpanzees hundreds of thousands of years before it was thought to have occurred in Africa.

Kemo D. 7

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