If confirmed, the discovery could redraw the evolutionary tree of primates, suggesting that humans and chimpanzees split from their gorilla-like ancestors earlier than thought. Geneticists have previously put the date at which the human and chimpanzee lineage split from gorillas at around 7m years ago, with humans and chimps diverging 5m years ago.
A team led by Gen Suwa at Tokyo University Museum recovered one canine and eight partial molars from rocky sediments that have been dated to about 10m years old. The teeth are believed to come from at least three apes of the same species that lived in what would have been a forested valley at the time. The teeth are close in shape and size to those of modern gorillas, with smaller versions of crests (which help with chewing tough, fibrous material) that are a characteristic of gorilla teeth.
However, Peter Andrews, former head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said the researchers needed more evidence to be sure they had identified a new great ape species. "They're saying an awful lot from an awful little... These structures appear on at least three independent lineages of apes, including gorillas, and they could relate to a dietary shift rather than indicating a new genetic trait. It is stretching the evidence to base a time scale for the evolution of the great apes on this new fossil,"
So this discovery could be a significant discovery forcing us to rethink our very early origins or it could be it could be a false alarm. Such is the way of scientific discovery. It’s still fascinating stuff, though....