Temporal range: Late Miocene
|Holotype jaw and premolar|
von Koenigswald, 1972
Graecopithecus freybergi is a hominin originally identified by a single mandible found in 1944. Since then, analysis of tooth specimens, dated to 7.2 million years ago, has led to suggestions that Graecopithecus may have been the oldest direct ancestor of humans excluding the chimpanzee lineage, or alternatively the last common ancestor of both humans and chimpanzees. The creature was nicknamed ‘El Graeco' by scientists.
The original Graecopithecus specimen mandible was found in 1944, "reportedly unearthed as the occupying German forces were building a wartime bunker". The mandible with a third molar that is very worn, the root of a second molar, and a fragment of a premolar is from a site called Pyrgos Vassilissis, northwest of Athens and is dated from the late Miocene. Excavation of the site is not possible (as of 1986) due to the owner having built a swimming pool on the location.
An examination of the detailed morphology of molar teeth from two fossils of G. freybergi published in 2017 suggests that it was a hominin, that is sharing ancestry with Homo but not with the chimpanzees (Pan). This would call into question the prevailing belief that pre-human hominids originated in Africa, though others are sceptical of the claims. The species was found to be some two hundred thousand years older than the oldest African hominid, Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in Chad.
Researchers who conducted the study said: "We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa". Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added: "This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area."
On the other hand, retired anthropologist and author Dr Peter Andrews, formerly at the Natural History Museum in London, said: "It is possible that the human lineage originated in Europe, but very substantial fossil evidence places the origin in Africa, including several partial skeletons and skulls. I would be hesitant about using a single character from an isolated fossil to set against the evidence from Africa."
The Trachilos footprints discovered by Gerard Gierliński in 2002 and researched in 2010, together with Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki, in Crete may be related to Graecopithecus. G. freybergi is considered to be possibly the same taxon as Ouranopithecus macedoniensis. The hominid is the least well known of those found within Europe.
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