Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Wolfgang Gerber / University of Tübingen

Analysis of 7.2 million year old remains in Europe and the areas surrounding the sites has led an international research team to suggest two key things: the origin of humankind may be in Europe and not in Africa, and environmental changes may have been the driving force for human-chimp divergence, according to two studies published together today.

The two studies, both published in PLOS ONE:

  • The dental study examines specimens of a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar from Bulgaria from a relatively new species called Graecopithecus freybergi and concluded they most likely belong to pre-humans called hominin. Both fossils were dated at about 7.2 million years before present — several hundred thousand years older than the (previously oldest) potential pre-human found in Chad.
  • The environmental study looks at the area surrounding the fossil finds and demonstrates evidence of severe environmental changes and concluded that a savannah biome formed in those areas of Europe around the same time as the Graecopithecus lived.

What it means: Where the last chimp-human common ancestor lived is a highly debated issue in palaeoanthropology. "This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area," David Begun, co-author of the study and a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist, said.

Yes, but: These studies do not prove the fossils are pre-humans (since there are not large enough bones) or that climate change triggered the divergence of humans from chimpanzees (just that it occurred at roughly the same time as the graecopithecus lived). Some researchers remain unconvinced and believe the fossils are from apes that lived in Europe at the time.

Details of dental study: Using computer tomography, the team was able to visualize the internal structures of the fossils and demonstrated that the roots of premolars are widely fused and that the lower jaw had additional features normally found in pre-humans.st

"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," according to Madelaine Böhme, head of the international research team and a professor at the University of Tübingen.

Details of the environment study: Taking a geological analysis of the sediments surrounding the fossil finds and using new methodologies to study microscopic fragments of charcoal and plant phytoliths, Böhme said the evidence showed severe droughts and recurring vegetation fires. Begun said climate change may explain why there was a split between human and chimp lineages.

"The transition to hominins probably involved increased terrestriality while still maintaining a dependency on trees," Begun said. "Increased [terrestriality] would theoretically be advantageous in a drier climate with few trees and arboreal resources."

Another perspective: Carol Ward, biological anthropologist at University of Missouri not involved in this study, agrees the studies do not prove pre-humans originated 7.2 million years ago in the Balkans area or that the divergence was due to climate change, but added the studies bring anthropologists closer to answers. Ward also admires the way the studies used advanced technology in new ways to examine fossils closer — such as seeing the internal structure of the roots of the teeth. "These are more weapons in our scientific arsenal," she said.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

Texas to end all coronavirus restrictions

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaking at the White House in December 2020. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Texas will end its coronavirus restrictions next week with an upcoming executive order, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday during a press conference in Lubbock.

Why it matters: After Abbott signs the new order, which rescinds previous orders, all businesses can open to 100% capacity and the statewide mask mandate will be over, though large parts of the state will remain under mask local ordinances.

Senate confirms Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as commerce secretary

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D). Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Senate voted 84-15 on Tuesday to confirm Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to lead the Commerce Department.

Why it matters: The agency promotes U.S. industry, oversees the Census Bureau, plays a key role in the government's study of climate change through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and evaluates emerging technology through the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director warns "now is not the time" to lift COVID restrictions — Exclusive: Teenagers' mental health claims doubled last spring.
  2. Axios-Ipsos poll: Americans' hopes rise after a year of COVID
  3. Vaccine: J&J CEO "absolutely" confident in vaccine distribution goals — Vaccine hesitancy is shrinking.
  4. World: China and Russia vaccinate the world, for now.
  5. Energy: Global carbon emissions rebound to pre-COVID levels.
  6. Local: Florida gets more good vaccine newsMinnesota's hunger problem grows amid pandemic — Denver's fitness industry eyes a pandemic recovery.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!