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Scientists found “history-altering” oldest human fossils ever

Scientists have found 300,000-year-old homo sapien fossils which represent the oldest known members of our species. The fossils are 100,000 years older than what was previously considered the oldest set.

In two studies published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, a team of international researchers detail the uncovering of homo sapien fossils, stone tools and animal bones at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco.

The homo sapien fossils include three young adults, an adolescent and a child of around 7 or 8 years old according to the studies.

The fossils upend the previous idea that we evolved from a single “cradle of humanity” in East Africa, as was suggested by the former oldest fossils which dated back 200,000 years.

Professor Jean-Jacques Hublin, the co-author of the studies, told BBC News that the discovery would “rewrite the textbooks”.

“It is not the story of it happening in a rapid way in a ‘Garden of Eden’ somewhere in Africa”, he said. “Our view is that is was a more gradual development and it involved the whole continent. So if there was a Garden of Eden, it was all of Africa.”

Jebel Irhoud first became an archaeological site of interest in the 1960s, but scientists had had trouble dating the fossils dug up there.

In 2004, the site was reopened and homo sapiens fossils continued to be found. Using thermoluminescence dating to measure electrons on heated flints found in the area, the researchers were able to precisely date the fossils.

“Well dated sites of this age are exceptionally rare in Africa, but we were fortunate that so many of the Jebel Irhoud flint artefacts had been heated in the past,” geochronology expert Daniel Richter said. This allowed us to apply thermoluminescence dating methods on the flint artefacts and establish a consistent chronology for the new hominin fossils and the layers above them.”

The researchers were also able to reconstruct the faces of the ancient humans that once lived at Jebel Irhoud. These homo sapiens had small features and faces not unlike our own. However, the size of the brain case shows that they didn’t have our smarts and still had a way to go on the evolutionary path.

The new fossils displace the previous record holders, 195,000-year-old remains that were found in Herto, Ethopia.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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