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Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not

Africa, scientists find


An artist's reconstruction of Graecopithecus

freybergi, left, with the jawbone and tooth found in Bulgaria and Greece Credit: University of
Sarah Knapton, Science Editor
22 May 2017 7:00pm
The history of human evolution has been rewritten after scientists discovered that Europe was the
birthplace of mankind, not Africa.
Currently, most experts believe that our human lineage split from apes around seven million years
ago in central Africa, where hominids remained for the next five million years before venturing
further afield.
But two fossils of an ape-like creature which had human-like teeth have been found in Bulgaria and
Greece, dating to 7.2 million years ago.
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The discovery of the creature, named Graecopithecus freybergi, and nicknameded El Graeco' by
scientists, proves our ancestors were already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the
earliest African hominid.
An international team of researchers say the findings entirely change the beginning of
human history and place the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans - the so-called
Missing Link - in the Mediterranean region.
To some extent this is a newly discovered missing linkProfessor Nikolai Spassov, Bulgarian
Academy of Sciences
At that time climate change had turned Eastern Europe into an open savannah which forced apes to
find new food sources, sparking a shift towards bipedalism, the researchers believe.
This study changes the ideas related to the knowledge about the time and the place of the first steps
of the humankind, said Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
Graecopithecus is not an ape. He is a member of the tribe of hominins and the direct ancestor of
The food of the Graecopithecus was related to the rather dry and hard savannah vegetation, unlike
that of the recent great apes which are leaving in forests. Therefore, like humans, he has wide
molars and thick enamel.

The species could be the first hominid ever to exist Credit: University of Toronto
"To some extent this is a newly discovered missing link. But missing links will always exist ,
because evolution is infinite chain of subsequent forms. Probably El Graeco's face will resemble a
great ape, with shorter canines."
An artist's impression of Graecopithecus Credit: National Museum of Natural History - Sofia,
Assen Ignatov
The team analysed the two known specimens of Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece
and an upper premolar tooth from Bulgaria.
Using computer tomography, they were able to visualise the internal structures of the fossils and
show that the roots of premolars are widely fused.
"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,", said lead researcher Professor Madelaine Bhme of the
University of Tbingen.
The lower jaw, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species was a hominid.
The tooth of Graecopithecus Credit: University of Tubingen
The species was also found to be several hundred thousand years older than the oldest African
hominid, Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in Chad.
"We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan
Africa," said doctoral student Jochen Fuss, a Tbingen PhD student who conducted this part of the
Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study,
added: "This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area."
During the period the Mediterranean Sea went through frequent periods of drying up completely,
forming a land bridge between Europe and Africa and allowing apes and early hominids to pass
between the continents.

The jawbone of Graecopithecus Credit: University of Tubingen

The team believe that evolution of hominids may have been driven by dramatic environmental
changes which sparked the formation of the North African Sahara more than seven million years
ago and pushed species further North.
They found large amounts of Saharan sand in layers dating from the period, suggesting that it lay
much further North than today.
Professor Bhme added: "Our findings may eventually change our ideas about the origin of
humanity. I personally don't think that the descendants of Graecopithecus die out, they may have
spread to Africa later. The split of chimps and humans was a single event. Our data support the view
that this split was happening in the eastern Mediterranean - not in Africa.
"If accepted, this theory will indeed alter the very beginning of human history."
However some experts were more skeptical about the findings.
Retired anthropologist and author Dr Peter Andrews, formerly at the Natural History Museum in
London, said: "It is possible that the human lineage originated in Europe, but very substantial fossil
evidence places the origin in Africa, including several partial skeletons and skulls.
"I would be hesitant about using a single character from an isolated fossil to set against the evidence
from Africa."
The new research was published in the journal PLOS One.

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