An 8.7 million-year-old ape skull suggests that human and ape ancestors may have evolved in Europe, not Africa

Conceptual X-ray image of human evolution.
Nick Veasey/Science Photo Library
  • An ape skull found in Turkey may challenge the belief that human and ape ancestors came from Africa.

  • The discovery suggests that hominins may have first evolved in Europe.

  • Not all scientists are convinced by the theory, however.

The discovery of an ancient ape skull may challenge the long-held belief that the ancestors of apes and humans came from Africa, a controversial new study says.

The partial skull of the ape, called an Anadoluvius turkae, was found in Cankiri, Turkey, and appears to date back to 8.7 million years ago, Live Science reported.

Meanwhile early hominins, which include humans, the African apes, and their fossil ancestors, are not seen in Africa until around seven million years ago.

The discovery challenges the widely-held view that the ancestors of African apes and humans originated exclusively in Africa.

Researchers say that this suggests that hominins might have first evolved in Europe before migrating to Africa.

The skull
The skull.Sevim-Erol, A., Begun, D.R., Sözer, Ç.S. et al.

"Our findings further suggest that hominins not only evolved in western and central Europe but spent over five million years evolving there and spreading to the eastern Mediterranean before eventually dispersing into Africa, probably as a consequence of changing environments and diminishing forests," said Professor David Begun, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Toronto and co-senior author of the study, per The Telegraph.

"This new evidence supports the hypothesis that hominins originated in Europe and dispersed into Africa along with many other mammals between nine and seven million years ago, though it does not definitively prove it," he said.

In order to prove this, more fossils from Europe and Africa would need to be found from between seven and eight million years ago to try and find a link between the two groups, he added.

The finding suggested that the ape would have weighed around 110 to 130 pounds, possibly lived in a dry forest, and likely spent a lot of time on the ground.

The skull was found in 2015 but its significance was discussed in research recently published in the journal Communications Biology.

Other researchers have said that the findings do not challenge our understanding of the origins of humans.

"This has been a long-running debate regarding great ape and our origins," said Professor Chris Stringer, research leader in human evolution at the Natural History Museum in London, The Telegraph reported.

"I don't think this find changes much from the discussions (in a recent paper in the journal Science) which concluded: 'Current evidence suggests that hominins originated in Africa from Miocene ape ancestors unlike any living species.'"

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