Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
This upper mandible was found in Nikiti, northern Greece
A brand-new analysis of fossils recovered in the 1990’s in the village of Nikiti, northern Greece, supports the controversial idea that the apes which gave rise to humans evolved in south-eastern Europe instead of Africa.
The 8 or 9-million-year-old fossils had first been linked to the extinct ape called Ouranopithecus. However, a team led by David Begun from the University of Toronto’s Department of Anthropology has recently analyzed the remains and has determined that they likely belonged to a male animal from a potentially new species.
Charles Darwin proposed in 1871 that all hominins, including both modern and extinct humans, descended from a group in Africa, and this is the most widely accepted theory today.
On the other hand, Darwin also speculated that hominins could also have originated in Europe, where fossils of large apes had already been discovered, and the new analysis supports this theory.
While Begun does not believe the Nikiti ape was a hominin, he speculates that it could represent the group from which hominins directly evolved.
The research team led by Begun had determined in 2017 that a 7.2-million-year-old ape called Graecopithecus, which also lived in what is now Greece, could possibly be a hominin. In this case, the 8 to 9-million-year-old Nikiti ape would have directly preceded the first hominin, Graecopithecus, before hominins migrated to Africa 7 million years ago.
According to a report in the journal New Scientist, Begun foresees that this new concept will be rejected by many experts who believe in African hominin origins, but he hopes that the new scenario will at least be considered.
Begun presented the research last month at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.