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Humankind may have originated in Europe not Africa

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.