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315,0000-Year-Old Fossils From Morocco Could Be Earliest Recorded Homo Sapiens

315,0000-Year-Old Fossils From Morocco Could Be Earliest Recorded Homo Sapiens

The excavation project uncovered 16 new Homo sapiens fossils along with stone tools and animal bones. The human species roamed Africa 300,000 years ago, according to new research that pushes back human origins by 100,000 years.

"The message we would like to convey is that our species is much older than we thought and that it did not emerge in an Adamic way in a small "Garden of Eden" somewhere in East Africa".

Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany visited Jebel Irhoud several times in the 80s and 90s only to officially resume excavations in 2004.

"The story of our species in the last 300,000 years is mostly the evolution of our brain and in this time period, a number of mutations occurred affecting brain connectivity", Hublin said. New fossils are pushing the evidence back by about 100,000 years.

The earliest previous Homo sapiens bones date back 195,000 years ago and they're from clear across the continent, in modern-day Ethiopia. Before this discovery, it was believed that the early modern humans we evolved from were in Africa 200,000 years ago and looked very similar to modern humans.

"This evidence makes Jebel Irhoud the oldest and richest African Middle Stone Age hominin site that documents early stages of the Homo sapiens clade", they wrote. Finds are rare and each one must be studied intensively to provide evidence about the many species of pre-humans and early modern humans that populated the world. Scientists believed modern humans evolved suddenly from more primitive human populations in East Africa.

Morocco was an unexpected place for such old fossils considering the location of other early human remains. The scientists also found fairly sophisticated stone tools and charcoal, indicating the use of fire by this group.

Writing in the journal Nature, Hublin and colleagues said the skulls belong to clearly modern humans, even if the head shape is a little longer and narrower than those of modern people. Many were collected during the 1960s but had been imprecisely dated to 40,000 years ago.

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Compared to Neanderthals, early Homo sapiens had a larger cerebellum - the part of the brain that governs body movement.

How do we know how old the fossils are?

This is a common argument in anthropology - where does a newly discovered fossil, especially one with a mix of ancient and more modern features, fit in the bushy family tree of human ancestry?

Numerous tools at the site had been subjected to heat, which enabled the team to date the amount of radiation they contained using a technique known as thermoluminescence dating.

"Rather, we would support the notion that around 300,000 years ago, very early forms of Homo sapiens were already dispersed all over Africa". Their findings paint a picture of a hunting encampment where people passing through the landscape would spend the night, take shelter and clean and consume the animals they hunted, McPherron said.

"It means they were no slouches intellectually", Professor Groves said. But this discovery widens the "cradle of life" from East Africa to the whole continent, Hublin said, and suggests that these evolutionary changes were happening across the continent at the same time.

Hublin did not hazard a guess as to how long ago the very first members of our species appeared, but said it could not have been more than 650,000 years ago, when the evolutionary lineage that led to Homo sapiens split from the one that led to the Neanderthals.

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