In December of last year (2015) and article appeared in the online publication “The Scientist” by Paleoanthropologist David Begun of the University of Toronto. The article appeared following publication of his book entitled “The Real Planet of the Apes: A new story of human origins.” The article was entitled “Out of Europe?” (see link below).
Begun’s basic premise is that early human ancestors had their beginnings in Europe not Africa. Of course this goes against everything held sacred by mainstream paleoanthropology but Begun presents some interesting arguments for his assertion.
He begins his article by noting that all of the earliest fossils of gorillas and chimps (our closest living relatives) are exclusively from Africa and he notes that since the days of Charles Darwin researchers have accepted the fact that early primates evolved in Africa. He further notes that this assumption was seemingly confirmed about 50 years after Darwin with the earliest fossils of early human ancestors being found in Africa. However, Begun then asserts that his own research into early evolution of apes ends with another conclusion! And his own ape evolution research concludes that hominins evolved NOT in Africa but in EUROPE!
In his book Begun gives evidence for reaching this conclusion by showing that a broader consideration of the fossil record of ape evolution indeed explains many of the anatomical features that make us human. For instance, Begun notes that Darwin wrote that most likely our common ancestor shared by humans and apes lived in Africa yet in the very next line Darwin (in his book “The Descent of Man”) suggests that Europe not Africa may have actually been the birthplace of hominins! Dryopithecus is and ancient fossil ape known by Darwin from France. This species had more than enough time to migrate INTO Africa from Europe and give rise to hominins there (in Africa).
Attention shifted to Africa after the Piltdown Man hoax but before that hoax the main emphasis was searching for the “missing link” in Europe and Southeast Asia. One big reason that the focus changed to Africa was that beginning in the 1920s a number of fossil apes were discovered by researchers. Africa provide a rather good climate for fossilization. Southeast Asia with its tropical climate does not. Additionally, many well-preserved ape fossils have also been discovered in Europe and Begun believes Darwin may have been on to something in speculating Europe, not Africa, may have been the birthplace of hominins.
It’s believed that by most researchers that apes arose in Africa and became rather abundant some 18 mya and that these apes shared monkey and ape features overall looking more like monkeys than true apes. Apes are believed to have dispersed into Europe out of Africa some 17 mya. The first ape believed to have reached what is today Europe are believed to have been already distinct from their African relatives with thick tooth enamel, flat cusped molars for crushing and grinding food that grew in more seasonal environs than those of Africa. Further, there have been few ape fossils found in Eurasia or Africa dating between 17-13.5 mya but by 12.5 mya, Begun asserts, we find the real first evidence of hominins in Europe. And those real first apes in Europe are none other than Dryopithecus!
Dryopithecus was the first ape with an upper jaw closely resembling a gorilla. It’s teeth also closely resemble those of the gorilla with thin enamel and raised cusps. Fossil remains from this species also show that it walked more upright than other species! Fossils of this species from Spain and Hungary show Dryopithecus had a large brain that is in the size range of modern living apes. Rudapithecus, another early fossil ape found in Hungary was similar to African apes in skeletal organization as well. This species had a brow ridge and a long, low braincase but a face more tucked under the braincase than what we see in Orangutans. Ouranopithecus is yet another fossil ape. This species has been found in the fossil record in Greece and it resembles modern gorillas even more!
Begun says when looking at the fossil record in a broader sense than just as found in Africa he believes our direct ape ancestors (our ape-human common ancestor) evolved in Europe rather than Africa! And he says that this possibility explains a lot about human origins!
Between 16-12 mya Europe experienced several climate upheavals as a once subtropical climate changed to one of becoming more seasonal. Begun says this helps explain the appearance of mobile upper limbs, upright posture, and larger brains. He says all of these were evolutionary responses to climate change in Europe but not Africa!
This climate change period also exposed several land bridges between Africa and Europe which these European apes (some of them) used to migrate into Africa around 10 mya. He says that it was during this time that features we find in humans today began such as bipedalism, dexterous hands, greatly enlarged brains, etc.
I have not read Begun’s book but I am certainly interested in the fossil evidence he used to come to his conclusion. I think when it comes to ape evolution we will find the same thing we are now finding in human evolution. That is that there was no one migration of early human ancestors out of Africa but several AND not only does there appear to have been migrations out of Africa but there were also numerous migrations BACK into Africa from Eurasia and the Levant! During the time period Begun is referring to sea levels were somewhat lower than they are today and it would, likely, have been possible for these early prehistoric apes to have migrated back and forth between Europe and Africa. It certainly IS possible but I’m not yet convinced that the common human ancestor between apes and humans originated and/or evolved in Europe. Stay tuned………………….
Article by David Begun: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/44588/title/Out-of-Europe-/