Africa is still the cradle of humankind

The theory that humankind originated in Europe was abandoned in 1924 when the first Australopithecus was discovered in South Africa, writes Julien Benoit.

Africa is not the cradle of humankind: that’s the claim by a group of scientists who’ve just published what they describe as evidence of pre-human remains found in Eastern Europe (Greece and Bulgaria). The fossils in question belong to Graecopithecus freybergi, and are a little more than seven million years old. This would make them the world’s oldest hominin fossils.

It would also re-root the human evolutionary tree in Eastern Europe, away from Africa. This runs counter to a great deal of evidence which suggests that humans originated in Africa.

Dr Julien Benoit, a vertebrate palaeontologist and palaeobiologist who has worked extensively on the African continent and was not part of the European research team, chatted to The Conversation Africa about the findings.

This new research suggests that Greece, not Africa, should be calling itself the cradle of humankind. Do you think that’s accurate?

Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence to support them. The African origin of humankind (Hominini) is currently supported by two really important elements.

Firstly, thousands of hominin fossils have been found on African soil since the first fossil African hominin, Australopithecus africanus, was discovered in South Africa in 1924.

Nearly a century of fossil findings has followed, chronicling the complete evolution of hominin on African soil. These fossils range from the Sahelanthropus, which lived between six and seven million years ago in what is today Chad, to the earliest Homo sapiens from east Africa.

Secondly, our closest ape relatives, the Chimpanzees and the Gorilla are also from Africa. Our last common ancestors lived somewhere between eight and 12 million years ago, which strongly suggests that the origin of humankind is deeply rooted in Africa. This leave little room for a putative European…

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