Early Human Ancestor Disproved?

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
October 27, 2009

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove the implication that Algeripithecus is or was considered apelike. The species has instead been seen as an ape ancestor (October 29, 2009).

A creature that could fit in your hand has long been seen as the strongest evidence that humans and apes originated in Africa.

But now scientists say 50-million-year-old Algeripithecus was not an ape or human ancestor and was more like today's lemurs, after all.

What's more, a new study of the 3-ounce (85-gram) fossil species could add weight to the idea that our earliest ancestors arose not in Africa but in Asia.

Discovered in 1992 in what is now northern Africa, Algeripithecus is considered to be the oldest known ape ancestor on that continent.

But the new analysis suggests the creature belonged to another ancient primate group, the crown strepsirhines.

Crown strepsirhines, which are not in the human ancestry, gave rise to modern-day lemurs, galagos, and lorises (see a loris picture).

Oldest Human Ancestors From Asia?

Asia is the only other known region where ape ancestors have been found. Whether apes arose there or in Africa is a "hotly contested issue" in the study of ancient primates, the study says.

The Africa theory rests heavily on Algeripithecus, now apparently exposed as a non-ape ancestor.

Other than Africa, Asia is the most logical ape-ancestor "birthplace," study leader Rodolphe Tabuce, of France's University of Montpellier, said in an email.

But evolutionary anthropologist Blythe Williams said "absence of evidence" is not enough to lend credence to an out-of-Asia theory.

Continued on Next Page >>


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