Possible early human turns out to be unknown ape

  • June 25, 2009

The Longgupo jaw, a controversial fossil find which scientists claimed represented an unknown type of hominid, has been shown to originate from ape, rather than human, descendants.

Scientist Russell Ciochon made headlines in the 1980s when he discovered a 2-million-year-old fossil jaw bone in a cave in central China, seemingly belonging to an unknown hominid. Then, in the mid-1990s, Ciochon theorised that his discovery represented a wholly unknown species predating the appearance of Homo erectus in Asia by roughly 1-million years.

Last week, on June 17, 2009, Ciochon announced that he believed his theory to be incorrect, stating that the jaw appears to belong to an ancient, and as yet unidentified, ape.

The retraction remains controversial, as some theories about the evolution of early humans were built on the back of the finding, particularly the alternative to the so-called “out of Africa” theory which articulates the widely held belief that human evolution began in Africa.

The announcement has made international headlines.

Brian Handwerk, in an article for National Geographic News, writes: “Nearly 15 years ago Russell Ciochon shook our family tree when he announced that a fossil found in a Chinese cave was evidence of a new form of early human. But that was then.” Read the full article here.

Ciochon himself has penned an article on the topic for Nature which outlines the facts that led to his change of mind. Read the article here.

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