Thursday, 25 May 2017

Our common ancestor with chimps may be from Europe, not Africa

22 May 2017

By Colin Barras

The last common ancestor we shared with chimps seems to have lived in the eastern Mediterranean – not in East Africa as generally assumed.

This bold conclusion comes from a study of Greek and Bulgarian fossils, suggesting that the most mysterious of all ancient European apes was actually a human ancestor, or hominin. However, other researchers remain unconvinced by the claim.

Go back 12 or more million years ago and Europe was an ape’s paradise. But, about 10 million years ago, environmental conditions deteriorated and the European apes began to disappear. Apes became largely confined to Africa, splitting there into gorillas, chimpanzees and humans.

At least, that’s what most researchers think happened. But in 2012, Nikolai Spassov at the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia, Bulgaria, and his colleagues reported the discovery of an ape tooth from Bulgaria that was just 7 million years old. It was, they said, the youngest European ape fossil yet found.
Very Ancient Greek

Spassov and his colleagues – including Madelaine Böhme at the University of Tübingen in Germany and David Begun at the University of Toronto, Canada – now think the tooth belongs to an ape called Graecopithecus that clung on in eastern Europe long after the other apes had disappeared from the continent. What’s more, the team says, Graecopithecus was no ordinary ape – it was a hominin.


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