Fossils From Morocco Push Back Human Origins 100,000 Years
Ancient human remains discovered in Morocco date to at least 300,000 years ago according to a June 7 article in Nature. The fossils are more than 100,000 years older than any other Homo sapiens remains previously uncovered.
The archeological site, Jebel Irhoud, is located on the Atlantic coast of North Africa, thousands of miles away from traditional sites regarded as the “birthplace” of modern humans, including sub-Saharan Africa and east Africa. Study author Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute in Germany said that the new discovery indicated that the “Garden of Eden” could be all of Africa — a “big, big garden.”
The oldest previous human fossils were discovered in Ethiopia, dating between 160,000 and 196,000 years ago. DNA analysis of people from around the world indicates that humanity originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago, genetically. Hublin first visited Jebel Irhoud in the 1990s, when only a few specimins had been uncovered. In the late 2000s, funding supported more excavations, with more than 20 new human bones discovered as well as modern-appearing stone tools.
Two different dating methods were used on the new remains, showing they were 280,000 to 350,000 years old. The recovered skulls have some differences from modern humans, including an elongated skull and larger teeth. Chris Stringer, a scientist from London’s Natural History Museum, was familiar with some of the Moroccan fossils discovered in the 1970s. Stringer said they were “puzzling” and seemed too “young and primitive” to be Homo sapiens. The new dating “shifts Morocco from a supposed backwater” to a prominent position in the study of human origins, Stringer told Nature.
While dry and desolate today, the North African site where the bones were discovered was once a green savannah environment with lakes, rivers and game animals like gazelles and antelope. The archeological dig is located in a dry wash area today, but was once a sheltering cave that housed the people whose remains were discovered.