Washington: In a new research, scientists have disproved the theory that the 50-million-year-old fossil of an “apelike” creature, discovered in 1992 in what is now northern Africa, was the earliest human ancestor, which adds weight to the idea that our earliest ancestors arose in Asia, not in Africa.
The ancient Algeripithecus has long been seen as the strongest evidence that humans and apes originated in Africa.
Now, according to a report in National Geographic News, a new study of the 3-ounce (85-gram) fossil species has determined that Algeripithecus was nothing like an ape, after all.
Discovered in 1992 in what is now northern Africa, Algeripithecus is considered to be the oldest known ancestor of apes on that continent.
But, the new analysis suggests the creature belonged to another ancient primate group, the crown strepsirhines.
Crown strepsirhines, which are not related to humans, gave rise to modern-day lemurs, galagos, and lorises.
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, according to the study.
The Africa theory rests heavily on Algeripithecus, now apparently exposed as a non-ape.
Other than Africa, Asia is the most logical ape “birthplace,” said study leader Rodolphe Tabuce, of France’s University of Montpellier.
Algeripithecus fossils were first found in 1992 by researchers from France’s University of Montpellier at the Glib Zegdou site in northeastern Algeria.
The French team has continued to unearth new, and more Algeripithecus fossils, notably skull fragments and jawbones, some nearly complete.
The jaw and skull of Algeripithecus lack classic apelike features, such as distinct teeth, according to the study.
Instead, Algeripithecus’s jawbone has a long, thin formation, which the study says is “entirely compatible” with a “toothcomb,” comblike lower front teeth used for grooming—common in strepsirhines, including modern lemurs.
Despite the new evidence, Algeripithecus is still a crucial figure in early primate evolution—but instead as one of the oldest known examples of a crown strepsirhine, the study said.
According to evolutionary anthropologist Blythe Williams, the study’s findings are helpful for scientists tracing how apes became human.
The new study does “focus our attention on Asia”—though it’s impossible to say yet if apes originated there, she