Researchers find link between apes in Africa and 10-million-year-old ape fossils in Spain.
AN analysis of prehistoric ape fossils previously discovered in Spain is apparently adding weight to the theory that the ancestors of African apes and humans evolved in Europe before migrating to Africa between nine and seven million years ago.
A re-examination of the inner ear canals of extinct great ape fossils from approximately 10 million years ago – the Hispanopithecus – shows a close relationship with humans and living African apes, according to a study by an international team of researchers published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
The specimen dates back to a period three to four million years before the oldest known potential pre-human from Africa, the six to seven-million-year-old Sahelanthropus from Chad.
“The new evidence from the inner ear supports the hypothesis that hominines originated in Europe and dispersed into Africa along with many other mammals between nine and seven million years ago, but does not definitively prove it,” said David Begun, a professor at the University of Toronto’s department of anthropology in the Faculty of Arts & Science and one of the co-authors of the study.
“Compared with all contemporary apes, the inner ear structures of both Hispanopithecus and Rudapithecus (fossils were found in Hungary) most closely resemble those of African apes,” adds Begun
“The inner ears…are remarkably similar to those of living chimpanzees and gorillas, which are the closest relatives of humans.”
The species lived about 10 million years ago during the Miocene epoch and are members of an extinct tribe known as dryopithecins, a sub-group of the family of hominids that includes a range of great apes, both living and extinct.
Using advanced micro-CT scanning technology, the researchers analysed the blood relationship between the species based on the structure of their semi-circular inner ear canals.
This anatomical structure has previously revealed itself to be informative in reconstructing the genetic relationships between fossil primate species.
“The results confirm that both are indeed hominids according to their robust canals, which is a unique character of great apes and humans,” said Begun.
Begun said that, over time, changes in the semi-circular canals of the inner ear, which are involved in balance, also help to explain how humans evolved from spending most of their time in the trees to coming down to the ground.
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