Well, time to change the textbooks…

Until now, researchers believed that the first ever modern humans or Homo sapiens, came out of East Africa about 200,000 years ago. But in Jebel Irhoud a remote region of Morocco in what was once a cave. A team of European and Moroccan scientists has found five fossil remains that date back to about 315,000 years ago, which would make them the oldest modern humans ever found.

This is a huge breakthrough because it would mean our species evolved across Africa more than 100,000 years earlier.

SOURCE: SHANNON MCPHERRON/NATURE

According to a report in the scientific journal Nature, an international team of researchers led by Jean-Jacques Hublin who directs the department of human evolution at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology uncovered a skull, bones along with some stone tools.

In a statement, Hublin said, “This material represents the very root of our species, the oldest Homo sapiens ever found in Africa or elsewhere,”

“We used to think that there was a cradle of mankind 200, 000 years ago in east Africa, but our new data reveal that Homo sapiens spread across the entire African continent around 300,000 years ago,” he explains. “Until now, the common wisdom was that our species emerged probably rather quickly somewhere in a ‘Garden of Eden’ that was located most likely in sub-Saharan Africa,”

“Long before the out-of-Africa dispersal of Homo sapiens, there was dispersal within Africa,” he added.

The fossils found were surrounded by a gazelle and other animal bones and scientists believe that these homo sapiens mainly hunted for their food. The fossil also shows that although our ancestor’s brains functioned differently they did have similar faces as our own.

The discovery of the site was not new, a few pieces of skull and flint blades were found by Moroccan miners at the Jebel Irhoud site in 1961, but the horrendous dating techniques used back then estimated the remains to be only 40,000 years old. It wasn’t until the 1980s when Jean-Jacques Hublin took a closer look at one jawbone that he realized something didn’t add up.

Hublin said although the teeth were similar to modern humans, the shape seemed very primitive. Thus starting in 2004 Dr. Hublin and his team started to excavate Jebel Irhoud once again and found more fossils, including five skull bones and burnt flint blades. Scientists used a method called thermoluminescence to estimate how long it has been since the blades were burned and estimated the blades to be around 300,000 years old.

Of course, a claim so big could not be without its detractors.

John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin said that it was a plausible idea, but that recent discoveries of fossils from the same era raise the possibility that they were used by other hominins. The only way to resolve the question will be to find more hominin fossils from the time when our species emerged.

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