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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 25;109(39):15716-21. Epub 2012 Aug 13.

Generation times in wild chimpanzees and gorillas suggest earlier divergence times in great ape and human evolution.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


Fossils and molecular data are two independent sources of information that should in principle provide consistent inferences of when evolutionary lineages diverged. Here we use an alternative approach to genetic inference of species split times in recent human and ape evolution that is independent of the fossil record. We first use genetic parentage information on a large number of wild chimpanzees and mountain gorillas to directly infer their average generation times. We then compare these generation time estimates with those of humans and apply recent estimates of the human mutation rate per generation to derive estimates of split times of great apes and humans that are independent of fossil calibration. We date the human-chimpanzee split to at least 7-8 million years and the population split between Neanderthals and modern humans to 400,000-800,000 y ago. This suggests that molecular divergence dates may not be in conflict with the attribution of 6- to 7-million-y-old fossils to the human lineage and 400,000-y-old fossils to the Neanderthal lineage.

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