Ancestors of humans evolved in Asia, not Africa

Thursday, October 28, 2010

LONDON - The human family tree may have to be rewritten after scientists found evidence that the ancient ancestors of humans evolved in Asia - rather than Africa - tens of millions of years ago and then moved to Africa.

The claim follows the discovery of fossils of four species of early primate in the Sahara desert, dating back 39 million years. The creatures - or anthropoid primates - are unlike anything seen before in Africa from the same time period or before, suggesting that they evolved elsewhere.

Scientists say there is overwhelming fossil evidence that mankind evolved from ape-like creatures in Africa, two to three million years ago. But the new finding challenges that view, reports the Daily Mail.

“If our ideas are correct, this early colonisation of Africa by anthropoids was a truly pivotal event - one of the key points in our evolutionary history,” said Christopher Beard, of Carnegie Museum of Natural History and study author.

“It led to a period of flourishing evolutionary divergence amongst anthropoids, and one of those lineages resulted in humans. If our early anthropoid ancestors had not succeeded in migrating from Asia to Africa, we simply wouldn’t exist,” he added.

Although the researchers found only fossilised teeth at the Dur At-Talah escarpment - part of the unspoilt, remote Sahara in central Libya - they have a rough idea of their size and shape.

The four creatures were small, weighing between four and 16 ounces, and resembled monkeys or lemurs.

Three of the creatures came from distinct families, or ‘clades’, of primates - showing that they had been evolving from a common ancestor for a long time.

The researchers say there is no evidence of similar primates from Africa before 39 million years ago.

Filed under: Science and Technology

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