Homo sapiens has been revealed to be 100,000 years older than previously assumed - ageing our species by a whole third and dislodging East Africa as the cradle of humankind. "North Africa has always been neglected in the debates surrounding the origin of our species". Earlier this year a team argued they had found evidence that either modern humans or pre-humans were in North America 150,000 years ago.
McPherron and his team dated the flint used in the tools to approximately 300,000 years ago, when such materials would have been common among Middle Stone Age Homo sapiens. This supported animal life like gazelles, zebras, wildebeests, lions and other big cats - all of which were discovered at the site through fossil evidence of animals that these Homo sapiens hunted. Six fossils were first found at the site in the early 1960s during mining operations, including two skulls and a jaw bone. The new discovery reveals people from an early stage of our species' evolution, with a mix of modern and more primitive traits.
The groundbreaking fossil obliterates two decades of scientific consensus that our forefathers emerged in East Africa about 200,000 years ago, according to two related studies published in the science journal Nature.
The find, if correct, would have a profound impact in the field, opening up a series of questions about how humans spread throughout Africa between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago. So let's encourage a new generation of young scientists to go in search of new fossils and archaeological discoveries that will finally help us crack the puzzle of human evolution once and for all.
The researchers hope to return to Jebel Irhoud because there is still more to be excavated.
An global team of scientists unearthed teeth, bones and skulls belonging to three Homo sapiens adults, a teenager and a child among animal bones and stone tools.
But the new analysis suggests the fossils represent the earliest known modern humans.
Although some of the features are different from today's humans - including bigger teeth and more elongated skulls that suggest a difference in the brain's shape - they are also strikingly similar to modern man.
"The inner shape of the braincase reflects the shape of the brain", said Philipp Gunz, a palaeoanthropologist from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.
Get Ready for the Classiest Congressional Testimony. Ever.
Scientists re-analyzed fossils and stone tools found in Morocco during the 1960s.
"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.
Brain development into what modern humans have today would have taken place over tens of thousands of years. "I think we need more data points before whether we can say it is Homo sapiens or not", he said. These findings suggest a complex evolutionary history probably involving the entire continent, with Homo sapiens by 300,000 years ago dispersed all over Africa.
The fossils from Jebel Irhoud display a modern-looking face and teeth, and a large but more archaic-looking brain case.
Before our species evolved there were many different types of primitive human species, each of which looked different and had its own strengths and weaknesses.
They also collected stone tool artefacts which had been burnt in the humans' cooking pit. "The spectacular discoveries from Jebel Irhoud demonstrate the tight connections of the Maghreb [region] with the rest of the African continent at the time of Homo sapiens' emergence", says Ben-Ncer.
He said: "When modern humans come to Europe they didn't bury the dead".
Across the globe and throughout history, humans have been interested in understanding their origins - both biological and cultural. But the new dates suggest that this kind of toolkit, found at sites across Africa, may be a hallmark of H. sapiens.
But Prof Hublin was always troubled by that initial interpretation, and when he joined the MPI he began reassessing Jebel Irhoud. "It's a plausible argument that the face evolves first", says paleoanthropologist Richard Klein of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, although researchers don't know what selection pressures might drive this. In this way, they could be distinguished from all other fossil human species known to be in Africa at the time.
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