This Is So Cool

The amazing discovery of 300,000-year-old remains in a Moroccan cave has upended the notion that modern humans evolved in East Africa only 200,000 years ago. Alan Burdick reports at the New Yorker:
In a paper in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers announced that they have pushed back the date of the earliest human remains to three hundred thousand years ago. And the specimens in question were found not in East Africa, which has become synonymous with a sort of paleoanthropological Garden of Eden, but clear on the other side of the continent—and the Sahara—in Morocco. "We're not claiming that Morocco is the cradle of modern humankind," the lead author, Jean-Jacques Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said at a press conference yesterday. Rather, he added, our emergence as a species was pan-African. "There is no Garden of Eden in Africa—or if there is, it's Africa," Hublin said. "The Garden of Eden is the size of Africa."

The site in question, Jebel Irhoud, is part of a network of caves that lies about sixty miles west of Marrakesh. In 1960, a mining operation unearthed an array of animal and human bones there, including a nearly complete hominin skull. But the remains were a puzzle—they were initially dated at forty thousand years old and thought to be Neanderthal, not human. Maybe this was a far-flung outpost of the European populations, the occupant a Neanderthal Robinson Crusoe. In 1968, a child's jawbone was found; the teeth suggested that it belonged to Homo sapiens, and improved dating techniques put it at a hundred and sixty thousand years old. Maybe this was a human site after all, a backwater branch of those early Homo sapiens in East Africa. In 2004, Hublin and his colleagues began to excavate in earnest, and brought the total number of hominin bones to twenty-two. All came from the same stratigraphic layer. Once the researchers had analyzed them, Hublin said, "the dates were a big wow."
Emphases mine. Wow indeed! Head on over to read the whole thing.

[H/T to Shaker Scott Madin.]

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