International Research Team Says Oldest Pre-Humans Lived in the Balkans

International Research Team Says
Oldest Pre-Humans Lived
in the Balkans

Sofia, May 23 (BTA) - An international research team including scientists from Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, France and Australia said that the oldest pre-humans lived in the Balkans 7.2 million years ago. Headed by Prof. Madelaine Bohme from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tubingen and Prof. Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the research team announced its findings late Monday.

On Monday, one of the most prestigeous research journals, PLOS ONE, published two articles presenting a new viewpoint about the time and the place where the pre-humans made their first evolutionary steps. One is entitled "Potential hominin affinities of Graecopithecus from the Late Miocene of Europe" and the other is "Messinian age and savannah environment of the possible hominin Graecopithecus from Europe".

The question about when the last common ancestor of man and chimpanzee - the closest present-day relative of humans - lived, is central in palaeoanthropology. The going theory is that the human-chimp split occurred 5 to 8 million years ago in Africa.

The two studies of the international research team published in PLOS ONE now outline a new scenario. This scenario is based on two fossils: a lower jaw from Greece (near Pyrgos Vasilissis south of Athens) and an upper premolar from Bulgaria (Azmaka locality near Chirpan in south-central Bulgaria). The authors show that the two fossils belong to the same species: the fossil hominid Graecopithecus freybergi, and that there is reason to believe that he was a representative of the evolutionary line leading up to man. They also reconstructed the environment in which the Graecopithecus lived.

At a news conference held in the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Tuesday, Prof. Spassov said the immediate comments in the research community about the new scenario for the human-chimp split have been that it is based on sparse evidence. "I am optimistic that the scenario will gradually be embraced," he said in answer to a reporter's question. He added that the evidence they are working with is indeed sparse but there is never a lot of evidence in this field of science.

The international team will present their conclusions at a geology congress in Athens in early September.

Before that, starting in early June, they will resume excavations at Azmaka and work at Pyrgos, said Prof. Bohme who participated in the news conference by a teleconference.

Prof. Spassov added that they also intend to visit Macedonia this coming autumn and start digging at a site which is believed to date back to the same period.

It is yet to be established how the Graecopithecus moved to Africa from the Balkans. The migration was most probably prompted by climatic reasons, said Prof. Spassov. PK/LN/


Source: Sofia