For many years now, the widely accepted belief on human evolution was that humans split from apes approximately 7 million years ago on the continent of Africa, where they remained for 5 million years before venturing out into the world.
A groundbreaking new discovery now threatens to rewrite this theory, after discoveries made in Bulgaria and Greece. Scientists have dug up fossilised teeth which date back 7.2 million years, suggesting that mankind did not in fact originate in Africa as once thought, and had already started to evolve 200,000 years earlier in Europe.
The discovered species which is known as Graecopithecus freybergi could potentially completely rewrite our human beginnings, placing our oldest known ancestors in the Mediterranean.
“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. “Graecopithecus is not an ape. He is a member of the tribe of hominins and the direct ancestor of homo.”
“To some extent this is a newly discovered missing link. But missing links will always exist, because evolution is [an] infinite chain of subsequent forms.”
It is theorised by scientists that during this time period, the Mediterranean sea went to frequent times of drying up completely, giving an opportunity for early humans to cross from Europe to the African region.
“Our findings may eventually change our ideas about the origin of humanity,” said Professor Madelaine Bohme of the University of Tubingen.
“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.”
Some experts however have been a little more skeptical of 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.”