PHILIPP GUNZ, MPI EVA LEIPZIGAt an archeological site in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, a group of archeologists discovered the oldest Homo sapiens fossils to date. The remains, which are around 300,000 years old, push the origin of the human species back 100,000 years, according to a pair of papers the group published today (June 7) in Nature.
“This stuff is a time and a half older than anything else put forward as H. sapiens,”
John Fleagle, a paleoanthropologist at the State University of New York in Stony Brook who was not involved in the studies, tells Science.
Jean-Jacques Hublin, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and his team uncovered the fossilized remains of at least five humans, including a partial skull and jaw, in Jebel Irhoud during an excavation project that began in 2004. Their subsequent analyses, published today, revealed the morphology of these ancient bones resembled both primitive and more recent human bones. “The face is that of somebody you could come across in the Metro,” Hublin tells the New York Times.
In the second study, the team aged both the human fossils and nearby stone tools at around 300,000 years old.
Prior to these findings, the earliest reliably dated human fossils were from Ethiopia, and were found to be around 195,000 years old. “This gives us a completely different picture of the evolution of our species. It goes much further back in time, but also the very process of evolution is different to what we thought,” Hublin tells the Guardian. “It looks like our species was already present probably all over Africa by 300,000 years ago.”
“They shift Morocco from a supposed backwater in the evolution of our species to a prominent position,” Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London who was not involved in the study, tells Nature.