A team of international research Led by Jean-Jacques Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, and Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer, of the National Institute of Archeology and Heritage (INSAP), in Rabat, Morocco, have discovered fossil bones of Homo sapiens with stone tools and animal bones in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco.
The findings date from about 300,000 years and surely represent the fossil evidence oldest dated from human species, according to the authors, since it is a date 100,000 years before the previous fossils of Homo sapiens. The discoveries – detailed in two articles published in the journal Nature– reveal a complex evolutionary history of humanity that probably involved the entire African continent.
Both the genetic data of present-day human beings as fossil remains point to an African origin from the Homo sapiens. Previously, the oldest and reliably dated fossils of this species were known from the Omo Kibish site, in Ethiopia, dated 195,000 years ago. In Herto, also in Ethiopia, a fossil Homo sapiens it is dated 160,000 years ago.
Until now, most researchers believed that all humans living today descended from a population that lived in East Africa about 200,000 years ago. “We used to think there was a cradle of humanity 200,000 years ago in East AfricaBut our new data reveal that Homo sapiens spread across the entire African continent about 300,000 years ago. Long before the dispersal out of Africa of the Homo sapiens, there was dispersion within Africa ”, says the paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin.
The Moroccan site of Jebel Irhoud has been well known since the 1960s for its human fossils. However, the interpretation of the Irhoud hominids has been complicated by persistent uncertainties surrounding their geologic age. The new excavation project, which began in 2004, resulted in the in situ discovery of new fossils of Homo sapiens, increasing their number from six to 22.
These findings confirm the importance of Jebel Irhoud as the oldest and richest hominin site from the Middle Ages of the Stone Age in Africa, a early stage of our species. The fossil remains of Jebel Irhoud comprisesn skulls, teeth, and long bones of at least five individuals. To provide an accurate chronology of these findings, the researchers used the method of thermoluminescence dating on heated flints found in the same tanks. These flints were approximately 300,000 years old and therefore push back the origins of our species by 100,000 years.
“Well-dated sites from this time are exceptionally rare in Africa, but we were fortunate that many of Jebel Irhoud’s flint artifacts had been heated in the past,” says the geochronology expert. Daniel Richter, from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig (Germany). “This allowed us to apply thermoluminescence dating methods on the flint artifacts and establish a consistent chronology for the new hominin fossils and the layers on top of them,” explains Richter.