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Ancient Fossil Ancestor Reveals Humans Split from Apes Far Earlier Than Expected

First Posted: Feb 17, 2016 09:40 AM EST

It turns out that humans split from apes far earlier than anyone expected. Scientists have found a common ancestor of apes and humans that evolved in Africa, not Eurasia, two million years earlier than previously 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," said Giday WoldeGabriel, one of the researchers, in a news release. "That's at least 2 million years earlier than previous estimates, which were based on genetic science that lacked fossil evidence."

Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and humans compose the biological family Hominidae. Our knowledge of hominid evolution, though, largely relies on fossil evidence.

In this latest study, the researchers discovered an extinct, gorilla-like species, Chororapithecus abyssinicus. This species likely ate a fibrous diet. More interesting, though, is that this common ancestor migrated from Africa and not Eurasia. This means that the common ancestors of chimps and humans lived earlier than had been evidenced by genetic and molecular studies, which placed the split ab out 5 million years ago.

The new fossil reveals a bit more about human evolution. More specifically, it shows that humans split off from apes far earlier than anyone expected. This, in turn, gives researchers a timeline for the process of evolution as a whole, and shows that it occurred more slowly than first thought.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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