A new analysis of two 7.2 million-year-old fossils belonging to a hominin species nicknamed “El Graeco” from Mediterranean Europe, suggests that mankind emerged in Europe and not in Africa. The new study could reshape history, since it openly challenges the “out of Africa theory.”
The Out of Africa Theory in Serious Doubt
When an ancient, toothy lower jaw was discovered back in 1944 in Pyrgos Vassilissis, Greece, nobody really paid attention to the fossil as the casualties in Greece from World War II were so catastrophic that the extremely significant discovery was literally ignored by most anthropologists.
A mix of hominid (genus Homo) depictions; (from right to left) H. habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus; H. antecessor – male, female, H. heidelbergensis; H. neanderthalensis – girl, male, H. sapiens sapiens. Public Domain
When it comes to modern human’s origins, the “Out of Africa” hypothesis has remained the dominant theory for decades, which suggests that every living human being is descended from a small group in Africa, who then dispersed into the wider world displacing earlier forms such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. However, according to Sky News reports , the birthplace of modern human beings may have been the eastern Mediterranean and not Africa, as an international team of scientists studying the ancient fossils of a tooth and lower jawbone, now suggest.
Studied specimens and virtual reconstructions of the holotype of Graecopithecus. * (Credit: Potential hominin affinities of Graecopithecus from the Late Miocene of Europe )
El Graeco Appears to be the Oldest Known Pre-Human in History
In 2012, the ancient jaw bone was joined by a fossilized premolar tooth uncovered in Azmaka, Bulgaria. Scientists suggest that the remains belonged to an ape-like creature, Graecopithecus freybergi, which is now believed to be the oldest known pre-human, dating back as far as 7.2 million years. With the help of micro-computed tomography and 3D reconstructions of the roots and internal structure of the fossilized teeth, the researchers discovered distinctive features of contemporary humans and their early ancestors.
A 7.24 million-year-old upper premolar of Graecopithecus from Azmaka, Bulgaria. ( Photo: Wolfgang Gerber, University of Tübingen )
Project director Madelaine Böhme of the Senckengberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, co-author Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and their colleagues examined both the Pyrgos fossil and the related upper premolar tooth. “El Graeco is the oldest known potential hominin. He is several hundred thousand years older than the oldest potential pre-human from Africa: 6–7-million-year-old Sahelanthropus from Chad,” Spassov stated as Seeker reports .
Computer Tomography Shows Human-Like Features
Anthropologists refer to “El Graeco” as hominin or pre-human for now, because the last common ancestor of modern humans and chimps retained both non-human primate and human characteristics. However, with the help of computer tomography, Böhme and her colleagues noticed that El Graeco’s features were evolving into more like modern human-like forms,
“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 including Ardipithecus and Australopithecus,” Böhme said in a statement as Seeker reports .
Root morphology in P4 of cf. Graecopithecus sp. and O. macedoniensis.
Furthermore, one of the researchers, David Begun from the University of Toronto, believes that if we move Graecopithecus to our own line, then mankind’s history could be re-written. “If this is indeed a human, it would be the oldest human ancestor known and the first to be identified outside of Africa. Ever since Darwin, conventional wisdom is that the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans lived in Africa. Our research shows that the earliest humans may have evolved in Europe,” he tells Science Alert.
El Graeco’s Descendants May Have Migrated to Africa
Although, Böhme appears to be confident that El Graeco’s ancestors are Eurasian hominines, such as Ouraanopithecus from Greece, she and her team are not ruling out the scenario that some of his descendants possibly migrated to Africa at some point. Of course, they consider it most possible that several of his descendants, as well as other early pre-humans, remained in the Mediterranean and spread throughout Europe and Asia. If this theory is true, then it’s very possible that his descendants could have evolved into Neanderthals, Denisovans, and the other early humans known from these geographical areas that are directly related to people of European and Asian origin nowadays.
The only sure thing is that if more evidence confirms such theories in the near future, human history as we know it today would drastically change. As Spassov tells Seeker , “Our new hypothesis is a smoking gun.”
DNA Study Finds Aboriginal Australians are Oldest Civilization in the World
Australia has one of the longest histories of continuous human occupation outside Africa. But who exactly were the first people to settle there? Such a question has obvious political implications and has been hotly debated for decades. The first comprehensive genomic study of Aboriginal Australians reveals that they are indeed the direct descendants of Australia’s earliest settlers and diverged from their Papuan neighbors about 37,000 years ago. The study also uncovers several other major findings on early human populations.
The research is published today in Nature and is the result of a close collaboration between international research teams and representatives of Aboriginal Australian communities. It includes six researchers from the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics — among whom, lead author Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas and group leader Laurent Excoffier, both from the University of Bern.
Aboriginal dancers in 1981 ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The early peopling of Australia and the continent’s subsequent population history has been a matter of scientific debate for decades. Until the present study, demographic inference was based on only three Aboriginal Australian genomes; one was derived from a tuft of hair (taken from a deceased individual), and the other two from cell lines whose provenance is somewhat hazy. Recently, with the assistance of Aboriginal Australian co-authors, an international team of scientists sequenced 83 modern Aboriginal Australian and 25 modern Papuan genomes. The research teams used this genomic data and combined it with linguistic data to characterize the peopling of Australia. The work reveals — among other things — three key dates.
72’000 y.a.: A common race out of Africa
It has often been hypothesized that the ancestors of modern Papuans and Australians must have left Africa far earlier than any other population if they were to reach New Guinea and Australia ~47’000 years ago, as suggested by the fossil record.
The researchers discovered, however, that this is most probably not the case; they estimate that around 72’000 years ago, an ancestral population common to Aboriginal Australians, Europeans and East Asians left the African continent. Professor Laurent Excoffier of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics and the University of Bern explains:
“Discussions have been intense as to what extent Aboriginal Australians represent a separate Out-of-Africa exit to those of Asians and Europeans. We find that, once we take into account admixture with archaic humans, the vast majority of the Aboriginal Australian genetic makeup comes from the same African exit as other non-Africans.”
Map of early human migrations ( Public Domain )
37’000 y.a.: Down Under’s First Settlers Diverge from their Neighbors
The Aboriginal Australians would have diverged from the Papuans 37’000 y.a., long before New Guinea and Australia became geographically separated (10’000 y.a.). “Aboriginal Australians have been the subject of scientific mystery,” notes senior author Professor Eske Willerslev, from the Copenhagen-based Center for GeoGenetics, Cambridge University and the Sanger Institute.
“How did they get there? What was their relationship to other groups? And how does their arrival change our understanding of how populations spread? Technologically and politically, it has not really been possible to answer these questions until now.”
A Papuan Sail Boat. ( Public Domain )
31’000 y.a.: One continent, Huge Genetic Diversity
While the authors found evidence for gene flow between sampled groups, the ancestral population of Aboriginal Australians started to become structured around 31’000 years ago thus creating the genetic diversity observed today. First author on the paper Assistant Professor Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas from the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, the Center for GeoGenetics of Copenhagen and the University of Bern says:
“The genetic diversity among Aboriginal Australians is amazing. Perhaps because the continent has been inhabited for such a long time by Aborginal Australians we find that groups from southwestern desert Australia are more genetically different from groups of northeastern Australia than are for example Native Americans and Siberians, and this is within a single continent.”