The first ancestor of man is from Europe.
A new review of two 7.2 million-year old fossils in southern Europe suggests that people have separated from primates hundreds of thousands of years earlier than thought. Also, this species may be the oldest discovered hominin.
Due to DNA tests, we know that humans and chimps (Pan troglodytes) started from a common ancestor, but the place and time of this evolutionary divergence is intensely debated. Now an international team claims to have found a new candidate that would change the way we see human evolution, writes Science Alert.
Researchers reviewed a little-known species called Graecopithecus freybergi, whose taxonomy remained problematic, despite the discovery in 1944 of a fossilized mandible in Greece. In 2012, the mandible was joined by a fossilized premolar found in Bulgaria.
Using digital tomographs and 3D reconstructions of roots and the structure of fossil teeth, scholars have found common features with modern humans and their ancestors.
They thus suggested that G. Freybergi is part of the hominine branch – the evolutionary branch of modern humans and all extinct species of non-primates.
It has previously been thought that the fossil is hominid, which is a wider group that not only includes humans, but also chimps, gorillas and other modern primates. If G. Freybergi is moved to the hominas group, it would completely change the history of evolution, as it is the oldest fossil of this type that has been discovered.
David Begun, of Toronto University (Canada) and one of the researchers who participated in the study, claims that “if he is indeed a hominin, he would be the oldest ancestor of man and the first to be found outside of Africa”. He also added that “from Darwin, I knew that the origin of man is in Africa. Our research shows that they come from Europe.”
However, researchers are aware that there is too little evidence to pinpoint the European human origins, but this research is extremely promising as this area can become the center of a new series of explorations.
The dating was done on the basis of sediment analysis from two sites in Greece and Bulgaria. They found that the mandible was 7,175 million years old, and the premolar 7,24 million years old, placing the potential hominin at a time when the Mediterranean was evaporated and looked like an African savanna.
Madeleine Böhme, of Tübingen University in Germany and the leader of this study, states that “fossils are the age of the beginning of Messinian, an era ending with a complete desiccation of the Mediterranean. The incipient formation of the North African desert more than seven million years ago and the expansion of savannahs in southern Europe have played a central role in separating the chimpanzee from humans. “