New Turkish fossil ape is a problem for human origin theories

A newly found fossil ape from an 8.7-million-year-old site in Turkey, is challenging old human evolution theories.
Sade Agard
A new face and partial brain case of Anadoluvius turkae, a fossil hominine – the group that includes African apes and humans – from the Çorakyerler fossil site located in Central Anatolia, Türkiye.
A new face and partial brain case of Anadoluvius turkae, a fossil hominine – the group that includes African apes and humans – from the Çorakyerler fossil site located in Central Anatolia, Türkiye.

Sevim-Erol, A., Begun, D.R., Sözer, Ç.S. et al. 

In a thought-provoking discovery, a newly found fossilized ape from a 8.7-million-year-old site in Turkey is prompting researchers to reconsider long-standing theories about human evolution.

The study published in Communications on August 23 proposes that the ancestors of African apes and humans may have evolved in Europe before migrating to Africa between nine and seven million years ago.

Anadoluvius turkae, a new fossil ape

"Our findings further suggest that hominines not only evolved in western and central Europe but spent over five million years evolving there," said Professor David Begun from the University of Toronto's Department of Anthropology in a press release.

Simply put, hominines includes African apes (chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas), humans and their fossil ancestors (including Homo neanderthalensis and Homo erectus).

The proposition in this new study introduces the idea that these hominines traversed the eastern Mediterranean and later migrated to Africa. Begun suggested this was probably due to changing environments and habitat alterations.

His team of scientists analysed Anadoluvius turkae, an ape uncovered at the Çorakyerler fossil site near Çankırı in Turkey, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. They meticulously studied a well-preserved partial skull discovered in 2015, which contains most of the facial structure and the frontal portion of the brain case. 

New Turkish fossil ape is a problem for human origin theories
Excavation of the Anadoluvius turkae fossil, a significantly well-preserved partial cranium uncovered at the Çorakyerler fossil site in Türkiye in 2015.

"The completeness of the fossil allowed us to do a broader and more detailed analysis using many characters and attributes that are coded into a program designed to calculate evolutionary relationships," Begun added.  

Anadoluvius turkae, resembling the size of a large male chimpanzee or an average-sized female gorilla, inhabited a dry forest setting. The creature's physical traits and environmental context suggest it likely spent significant time on the ground. 

The robust jaws and thickly enameled teeth hint at a diet involving hard food items akin to the dietary patterns of early humans in Africa. 

Coexisting with lion-like carnivores

Beyond shedding light on Anadoluvius itself, the discovery offers insights into its contemporaries. 

The fossil ape coexisted with a range of animals familiar in modern African grasslands and dry forests: giraffes, wart hogs, rhinos, antelopes, zebras, elephants, porcupines, hyenas, and lion-like carnivores. 

These findings hint at an ecological community that migrated from the eastern Mediterranean to Africa approximately eight million years ago.

Perhaps the most compelling outcome of this discovery is its role in connecting Anadoluvius to the lineage, leading to chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and humans. 

While these apes are presently associated with Africa, the study's authors propose that their shared ancestors could have originated in Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. 

This proposition is reinforced by the presence of similar fossil apes in Greece (Ouranopithecus) and Bulgaria (Graecopithecus).

In essence, this Türkiye-based revelation invites us to reconsider our understanding of early hominines and their complex origins. 

As this story continues to unfold, it serves as a reminder that the path of evolution is more intricate and intriguing than we previously imagined. 

In the ever-evolving narrative of human history, each discovery brings us closer to comprehending the diverse and captivating journey that has led us to where we are today.

The complete study was published in Communications Biology on August 23 and can be found here.

Study abstract:

Fossil apes from the eastern Mediterranean are central to the debate on African ape and human (hominine) origins. Current research places them either as hominines, as hominins (humans and our fossil relatives) or as stem hominids, no more closely related to hominines than to pongines (orangutans and their fossil relatives). Here we show, based on our analysis of a newly identified genus, Anadoluvius, from the 8.7 Ma site of Çorakyerler in central Anatolia, that Mediterranean fossil apes are diverse, and are part of the first known radiation of early members of the hominines. The members of this radiation are currently only identified in Europe and Anatolia; generally accepted hominins are only found in Africa from the late Miocene until the Pleistocene. Hominines may have originated in Eurasia during the late Miocene, or they may have dispersed into Eurasia from an unknown African ancestor. The diversity of hominines in Eurasia suggests an in situ origin but does not exclude a dispersal hypothesis.

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