Abstract Aim To test the hypothesis that the ancestor of the hominines (African apes and humans) had an African origin by comparing the historical biogeographical patterns of hominoids with those of two other large land mammal clades, namely the hyaenids and proboscideans. Location Global, primarily the Old World over the last 25 Myr (Miocene to present). Methods Creation of a general area cladogram usingpact, a new method for generating area cladograms, and interpretation of general and clade-specific speciation events involving hominoids, proboscideans and hyaenids. Results The analysis of the areas usingpactreveals both general patterns and clade-specific exceptions to these patterns. All three groups share a general episode of species formation in Africa in the early Miocene, followed by ‘out of Africa’ expansion into Europe, Asia and North America, and a second general episode of species formation in Asia in the mid-Miocene, followed by ‘out of Asia’ expansion into Africa, Europe and North America. Finally, there were two additional ‘out of Africa’ events during the late Miocene and into the Pliocene, the last one setting the stage for the emergence and spread of Homo. In addition to these shared episodes of vicariance and dispersal, each group exhibits clade-specific within-area and peripatric speciation events. Main conclusions The complex history of dispersal and speciation over large areas exhibited by hominoids is part of a more general history of biotic diversification by taxon pulses. Refining this scenario will require the integration of additional clades from the same areas and times, as well as more detailed palaeoclimatological, palaeoenvironmental and geological evidence.