New fossils found in Morocco have “rocked” our understanding of how human beings evolved.
The bones – including a skull, a jawbone, teeth and limb bones – were found at Jebel Irhoud, a mine 100km away from Marrakesh, over several years’ worth of excavations. They were found to be around 300,000 years old – 100,000 years older than fossils previously thought to represent the birth of humankind.
A variety of flint and stone tools were also found near the fragments, as well as numerous animal bones. They were all discovered in the same layer of dirt – suggesting they were about the same age and were used by the early homo sapiens.
The tools were also the key to the entire discovery. Using a technique that measures the accumulation of electrons, the researchers were able to accurately date the layer of dirt – and, subsequently, the bones.
The skull fragments have been digitally reconstructed, giving researchers a more accurate depiction of what the humans may have looked like. They looked pretty similar to modern humans, too – as long as they had a hat on, say researchers. Though their faces closely resemble modern humans, the back of their heads were longer.
Lead researcher Jean-Jacques Hublin told the Guardian that his reaction was a “big wow”. “I was expecting them to be old,” he said, “but not that old”.
“This gives us a completely different picture of the evolution of our species. It goes much further back in time, but also the very process of evolution is different to what we thought. It looks like our species was already present probably all over Africa by 300,000 years ago. If there was a Garden of Eden, it might have been the size of the continent.”
Previous research had suggested that a small part of East Africa had been the “Garden of Eden” from which modern human life evolved. But the new discovery suggests that this garden “was Africa”.
The researchers will continue to excavate the area and examine the bones for more clues about their provenance.