World's Oldest Homo Sapiens Bone Fossil Discovered in Morocco

Jun 08, 2017 02:14 PM EDT

An international team of researchers, led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology In Germany and Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer of the National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage in Morocco, unearthed fossilized bones of Homo sapiens. The bones were dug together with stone tools and animal bones and believed to be the oldest bones of Homo sapiens fossils to be discovered.

The oldest Homo sapiens bone fossils were uncovered from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco. Dated to about 300 thousand years ago, the the new discovery is considered to be the oldest fossil evidence of human species.

The latest discovery is 100 thousand years older than the previous holder of the title oldest Homo sapiens fossil. The bone fossil together with the animal bones and tools will give researchers another 100 years of information to trace back in order to understand human's oldest ancestors.

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"This stuff is a time and a half older than anything else put forward as H. sapiens," paleoanthropologist John Fleagle of the State University of New York at Stony Brook said in a statement.

The findings of the international team are published in the June 8 issue of the journal Nature. It will include a discussion on the complex evolutionary history of mankind.

The findings suggest that it is likely to involve the entire African continent. Many data, including the genetic makeup of present-day human beings as well as fossil evidence of Homo sapiens, point to an African origin. Older fossils were discovered in Ethiopia, which dated to 195 thousand years ago. Experts believe that humans are descendants of ancient populations from East Africa from some 200 thousand years ago.

"We used to think that there was a cradle of mankind 200 thousand years ago in East Africa, but our new data reveal that Homo sapiens spread across the entire African continent around 300 thousand years ago. Long before the out-of-Africa dispersal of Homo sapiens, there was dispersal within Africa," palaeoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin said.

But the discovery of bone fossils of Homo sapiens in other sites means that they could have traveled to other areas. Jebel Irhoud, the site in Morocco where the bone fossils were unearthed, is a known treasure trove for human fossils from the Middle Stone Age. The bones were extracted from an excavation project that started in 2004. The discovery solidifies the importance of Jebel Irhoud as a discovery site for the early stages of human species.

The oldest Homo sapiens remains still have comprehensible skulls, teeth and long bones of approximately five individuals. The researchers used thermoluminescence dating method with heated flints found in the same deposits the provide a precise chronology for the bones. 

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