Fossils Shed New Light on Human-Gorilla Split

Feb 12, 2016

Photo credit: Gen Suwa

By Charles Q. Choi

Fossils of what may be primitive relatives of gorillas suggest that the human and gorilla lineages split up to 10 million years ago, millions of years later than what has been recently suggested, researchers say. The finding could help resolve a controversy over the continent where the ape and human lineages first evolved, the scientists added.

Although the fossil record of human evolution is still patchy, it is better understood than that of great apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas. Since few great ape fossils have been found in Africa so far, “some scientists have forcefully suggested that the ancestors of African apes and humans must have emerged in Eurasia,” said study senior author Gen Suwa, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tokyo.

To shed light on the evolution of the ape and human lineages, Suwa and his colleagues investigated the Afar rift of Ethiopia. Previous research at the Afar rift unearthed fossils of some of the earliest known hominins — that is, humans and related species dating back to the split from the ape lineages.

The research team focused on the Chorora Formation, the oldest known sediments from the Afar rift. (The formation gets its name from Chorora, a village in the area.)

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