Millions of years before early humans evolved in Africa, their ancestors may have lived in Europe, a 12-million-year-old fossil hominid from Spain suggests.

The fossil, named Anoiapithecus brevirostris by Salvador Moyà-Solà of the Catalan Institute of Palaeontology in Barcelona, Spain, and his colleagues, dates from a period of human evolution for which the record is very thin. While only the animal’s face, jaw and teeth survive, their shape places it within the African hominid lineage that gave rise to gorillas, chimps and humans. However, it also has features of a related group called kenyapithecins.

Moyà-Solà says that A. brevirostris and some similar-looking kenyapithecins lived in Europe shortly after the afrohominid and kenyapithecin lineages split, and so that the divergence itself may have happened there. If he is right, our hominid ancestors lived in Europe and only later migrated to Africa, where modern humans evolved.

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