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Fossil Gorilla and Africa: Humans Likely Evolved Earlier Than Thought, Researchers Say

Feb 17, 2016 02:55 PM EST
Human-gorilla divergence may have occurred two million years earlier than thought
(Photo : Flickr: Rod Waddington)

Scientists recently unearthed 8 million-year-old gorilla fossils from the Chorora Formation in Ethiopia, which indicate the human evolutionary split took place 10 million years ago. Although it is still not clear when exactly human and gorilla lineages diverged, the recent find provides yet another theory that the split from our ancient ancestors happened earlier than thought.

"Our new research supports early divergence: 10 million years ago for the human-gorilla split and 8 million years ago for our split from chimpanzees," Giday WoldeGabriel, one of the study researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in a news release. "That's at least two million years earlier than previous estimates, which were based on genetic science that lacked fossil evidence."

Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and humans are all members of the biological family Hominidae. Our knowledge of hominid evolution -- that is, when and how humans evolved independently from great apes -- has significantly increased in recent years.

The newly found fossil teeth belong to a great ape known as Chororapithecus abyssinicus -- a common ancestor of apes and humans. Researchers used various clues to narrow down the timeline for the teeth they found. They sifted through volcanic rock samples and sediment particles below and above the teeth. This evidence led them to believe the fossils are approximately 8 million years old, and therefore the oldest mammalian remains found south of the Sahara desert area to date. As a result, researchers suggest apes -- and later humans -- originated in Africa, not Eurasia.

"Our analysis of C. abyssinicus fossils reveals the ape to be only 8 million years old, younger than previously thought. This is the time period when human and African ape lines were thought to have split, but no fossils from this period had been found until now," WoldeGabriel added.

Their study was recently published in the journal Nature

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