Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ian Sample - Oldest Homo sapiens bones ever found shake foundations of the human story

Fossils recovered from an old mine on a desolate mountain in Morocco have rocked one of the most enduring foundations of the human story: that Homo sapiens arose in a cradle of humankind in East Africa 200,000 years ago.

Archaeologists unearthed the bones of at least five people at Jebel Irhoud, a former barite mine 100km west of Marrakesh, in excavations that lasted years. They knew the remains were old, but were stunned when dating tests revealed that a tooth and stone tools found with the bones were about 300,000 years old.  “My reaction was a big ‘wow’,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin, a senior scientist on the team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. “I was expecting them to be old, but not that old.”

Hublin said the extreme age of the bones makes them the oldest known specimens of modern humans and poses a major challenge to the idea that the earliest members of our species evolved in a “Garden of Eden” in East Africa one hundred thousand years later. “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 told the Guardian. “It looks like our species was already present probably all over Africa by 300,000 years ago. If there was a Garden of Eden, it might have been the size of the continent.”


Jebel Irhoud has thrown up puzzles for scientists since fossilised bones were first found at the site in the 1960s. Remains found in 1961 and 1962, and stone tools recovered with them, were attributed to Neanderthals and at first considered to be only 40,000 years old. At the time, a popular view held that modern humans evolved from Neanderthals. Today, the Neanderthals are considered a sister group that lived alongside, and even bred with, our modern human ancestors.. read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/07/oldest-homo-sapiens-bones-ever-found-shake-foundations-of-the-human-story