Scientists working in Morocco say they have found the oldest known Homo sapiens fossils, a research discovery that potentially rewrites what humans know about their history and longevity as a species.
A research team led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer of the National Institute for Archaeology and Heritage in Rabat uncovered the fossil bones and stone tools at the Jebel Irhoud site.
The finds at Jebel Irhoud include the skulls, teeth, and long bones of at least five individuals, and document an early stage of our species.
Using state-of-the-art dating techniques that included thermoluminescence and electronic spin resonance methods, and building on previous work at Jebel Irhoud from the 1960s, the international team determined that the fossils and tools are about 300,000 years old. That’s considerably more than the previous dating of 200,000 years drawn from Ethiopia, or 100,000 years based on earlier findings in Israel.
“We used to think that there was a cradle of mankind 200 thousand years ago in east Africa, but our new data reveal that Homo sapiens spread across the entire African continent around 300 thousand years ago,” said Hublin, a palaeoanthropologist. “Long before the out-of-Africa dispersal of Homo sapiens, there was dispersal within Africa.”
For example, the finds at Jebel Irhoud “corroborate the interpretation of an enigmatic partial cranium from Florisbad, South Africa, as an early representative of Homo sapiens,” the scientists said in a press release.
The research was published Wednesday in the journal Nature. To read more, see this link.
Image: Max Planck Institute EVA/Philipp Gunz