Science

Startling fossil find shows Homo Sapiens is 100,000 years older than previously thought

Startling fossil find shows Ho...
An almost complete adult mandible discovered at the site of Jebel Irhoud
An almost complete adult mandible discovered at the site of Jebel Irhoud
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Two of the new Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) fossils in situ as they were discovered during excavation
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Two of the new Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) fossils in situ as they were discovered during excavation
At the time the site was occupied by early hominins, it would have been a cave, but the covering rock and much sediment were removed by work at the site in the 1960s
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At the time the site was occupied by early hominins, it would have been a cave, but the covering rock and much sediment were removed by work at the site in the 1960s
The Jebel Irhoud (Morocco)
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The Jebel Irhoud (Morocco)
Dr. Daniel Richter drilling into the site of Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) as part of his work dating the deposits
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Dr. Daniel Richter drilling into the site of Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) as part of his work dating the deposits
Excavators working on the remaining deposits at Jebel Irhoud
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Excavators working on the remaining deposits at Jebel Irhoud
Drs. Shannon McPherron (left) and Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer discussing the new fossils finds from Jebel Irhou
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Drs. Shannon McPherron (left) and Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer discussing the new fossils finds from Jebel Irhou
Dr. Jean-Jacques Hublin on first seeing the new finds at Jebel Irhoud
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Dr. Jean-Jacques Hublin on first seeing the new finds at Jebel Irhoud
Some of the Middle Stone Age stone tools from Jebel Irhoud
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Some of the Middle Stone Age stone tools from Jebel Irhoud
Two views of a composite reconstruction of the earliest known Homo sapiens fossils from Jebel Irhoud
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Two views of a composite reconstruction of the earliest known Homo sapiens fossils from Jebel Irhoud
The fossils indicate that the first Homo Sapiens date back 300,000 years
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The fossils indicate that the first Homo Sapiens date back 300,000 years
Reconstructed mandible set in virtual skull
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Reconstructed mandible set in virtual skull
An almost complete adult mandible discovered at the site of Jebel Irhoud
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An almost complete adult mandible discovered at the site of Jebel Irhoud
Virtual palaeoanthropology is able to correct distortions and fragmentations of fossil specimens
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Virtual palaeoanthropology is able to correct distortions and fragmentations of fossil specimens
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If you're drawing your genealogical chart, be prepared to buy a lot more paper because the human race is much older than we thought. According to a team led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer of the National Institute for Archaeology and Heritage in Morocco, fossils and stone tools found in a cave 100 km (62 mi) west of Marrakesh show that Homo Sapiens has been around for at least 300,000 years.

Until recently, the most popular theory about the emergence of modern humans is that they appeared about 200,000 years ago in a narrow region of East Africa in what is now known as Ethiopia. However, new finds and research into ancient DNA indicates that our ancestors appeared 100,000 earlier, were widespread over the continent, and underwent a complex evolution before spreading out into Asia and Europe.

The Max Planck study involved bones from five individuals from the Jebel Irhoud cave site in Morocco. First discovered in the 1960s, it has been a major source of undisturbed human and animal fossils as well as Mesolithic stone tools. The Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age is the era when the region shows a radical shift from the crude stone tools associated with Neanderthal Man into more finely worked chipped stone tools that dominated until the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, when ground stone tools appeared around the time when agriculture was invented.

Two views of a composite reconstruction of the earliest known Homo sapiens fossils from Jebel Irhoud
Two views of a composite reconstruction of the earliest known Homo sapiens fossils from Jebel Irhoud

In Europe, the Mesolithic dates back to about 9,660 BC, but Jebel Irhoud beats that by 268,000 years. In fact, the researchers say these tools may be a key factor in human evolution and why humans were able to disperse across Africa.

"The stone artifacts from Jebel Irhoud look very similar to ones from deposits of similar age in east Africa and in southern Africa" says Max Planck Institute archaeologist Shannon McPherron. "It is likely that the technological innovations of the Middle Stone Age in Africa are linked to the emergence of Homo sapiens."

These tools were not only of great interest to archaeologists for learning more about the society and technology of early Homo Sapiens, but they also provided valuable dating information.

Some of the Middle Stone Age stone tools from Jebel Irhoud
Some of the Middle Stone Age stone tools from Jebel Irhoud

Many of these flint tools had been heated in the past, almost certainly while in use, which caused their crystalline structure to reset like an erased audio tape. Over the millennia, natural radiation introduced electrons, which were trapped in the crystal matrix. Using a technique called thermoluminescence dating, scientists were able to release the electrons by heating the tools again. This produced a burst of light, which could be measured and used to calculate the age of the sample since it was last heated.

The team then used a human mandible found in the cave in the 1960s and dated it using electron spin resonance. Cross referenced with the thermoluminescence dating, the team found a secure date for the earliest Homo Sapiens fossils at 300,000 years ago.

According to the scientists, one of the most important aspects of the new date is that it shows how modern the people at Jebel Irhoud were. Using state-of-the art micro computed tomographic scans, the team was able to compensate for distortions caused by burial of the specimens and create a composite skull for analysis.

The fossils indicate that the first Homo Sapiens date back 300,000 years
The fossils indicate that the first Homo Sapiens date back 300,000 years

Their faces were small and gracile like that of modern man, to the point of being indistinguishable, but the braincase was large and globular with an elongated archaic shape, indicating that the brain was still evolving. In addition, the shape and the age of the fossils correspond to those of crania found in Florisbad, South Africa dating back 250,00 years, and one in Omo Kibish, Ethiopia from 195,000 years ago – indicating that this was a continent-wide process.

"The inner shape of the braincase reflects the shape of the brain," says palaeoanthropologist Philipp Gunz from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. "Our findings suggest that modern human facial morphology was established early on in the history of our species, and that brain shape, and possibly brain function, evolved within the Homo sapiens lineage."

The research was published in two papers in Nature [1],[2].

Source: Max Planck Institute

5 comments
Nik
Given the paucity of the fossil record, and the fragility of human bones, it's likely that H.S. is a lot older than the 300,000 years, and somewhere the prof is just waiting.
chase
Sounds like misrepresenting to me. Dating Stone... Be them made into tools or not, one is still dating the stone, not the date of tool manufacture/creation. Then dating a bone and cross referencing dates with said stone... giving a result which ends up being off the charts from other dating tests. Something is way off accuracy in this procedure is the first thing I'd suspect. Date the bone... That'll give you an approximate date of tool creation. I could be wrong... But this sounds like total bs.
ViktorLacca
probably a trick of the devil as the world is only at most 10k years old.
WarrenHarding
@chase Before you criticise the dating methods you should look them up and see how they work. They wouldn't be using them if there isn't proper science behind them. @Viktor Lacca I hope you're joking.
Don Duncan
Tools are proof of humans but so is fire. I heard on a food prep show that cooking fires were discovered about 400K old. V.C.: The bible says 6K.