"Humans and African Great Apes Probably Split Much Earlier"
22 Aug, 2007 07:01 pm
A study in Nature reports evidence of a new species of great ape found in Ethiopia. Interview with Dr Gen Suwa, lead researcher.
We found nine teeth of a large ape, which we attributed to a new genus and species, Chororapithecus abyssinicus. They are estimated to be 10 to 10.5 million-year-old, and are thought to be a basal branch of the gorilla line. This would be the earliest recognized primate that was directly related to the living African great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos).
What new information does it bring about evolution?
The human fossil record goes back to 6 to 7 million-year-old but we know nothing about how the human line actually emerged from apes. Chororapithecus gives us the first glimpse of the ape side background to the human origins story. These fossils show that humans and African great apes probably split much earlier than considered by molecular studies.
What do you expect to find out next?
We have just started our paleontological work in the area. So we will keep on steadily. The entire 12 to 7 million year period of Africa is so ill known by fossils, that we need much more to even start fomulating hypotheses about how the modern African apes and humans actually emerged. So this find is just a small step forwards. We, meaning all of us studying human evolution from the paleontological record, simply need many more fossil sites. And eventually we will come up with some more apes and proto-human fossils.
Gen Suwa is an Associate Professor at the Tokyo University Museum
Interview by Clementine Fullias
Suwa G., et al, Evolution: New species of great ape found, Nature, 23 August 2007