Begun told Seeker that he and his colleagues theorize that the African ape and human lineages arose from a European or Western Asian ancestor that migrated to Africa about 7–9 million years ago. Some human ancestors are then thought to have migrated back to Europe and Asia, while others continued to evolve in Africa.
The complex back and forth migrations might at first seem “unnecessarily complicated,” he said, but he said similar theories help to explain the evolution of other animals, such as aardvarks and hippos.
Evidence for possible early human presence outside of Africa also goes beyond debates over the Eppelsheim teeth.
In August, it was reported that fossil footprints possibly belonging to a hominin were found on the island of Crete. They date to 5.7 million years ago. According to the authors of the paper, published in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, the individual who left the prints was bipedal, walked on the soles of its feet, and exhibited other human-like characteristics.
RELATED: Oldest Known Fossils for Our Species Discovered in Morocco
This year, it was also reported that a human-resembling primate, Graecopithecus freybergi, lived in the Eastern Mediterranean around 7.2 million years ago. Madelaine Böhme of the Senckengberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, Begun, and their team analyzed fossils for the primate, nicknamed El Graeco.
The oldest higher primates are known from Asia more than 40 million years ago,” Böhme told Seeker. “But hominids have surely evolved from African hominids. After 14 million years, they first enter Eurasia and diversified into Ponginae — orangutan — and Homininae.”
It is possible that the Eppelsheim individual descended from one of these early migrations. On the other hand, it could belong to a lineage that remained in Asia and Europe.