Fossilised skulls found in Morocco show that early modern humans are 100,000 years older than previously thought.
Homo sapiens are traditionally thought to have been 200,000 years old, but analyses of skulls found in a cave show that they were living across Africa 100,000 years earlier, studies published in the journal Nature say.
This rewrites the evolutionary history of humankind, says Dr Renaud Joannes-Boyau, a researcher at Southern Cross University’s Geo Science centre who helped date the skulls.
“It provides a more complex version of the evolutionary history of mankind evolving an Africa-wide origin and not, as previously thought, a single east African birthplace,” he told journalists in a webinar briefing.
“Homo sapiens were already widely distributed in Africa long before they spread to other continents.”
The skulls from at least five early humans were discovered at Jebel Irhoud, in western Morocco, through excavations over the past 15 years.
They have since been dated back to between 280,000 and 350,000 years old.
The director of Griffith University’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Professor Rainer Grun who worked alongside Dr Joannes-Boyau said the the fossils provided “a big piece of the puzzle” in understanding how humans evolved.
“The Homo sapien face goes back to 300,000 years but, at 300,000 years, the skull cap and the brain case was completely different, so it gives insight into how fast the various features of early Homo sapiens develop,” he said.
The stone tools found also shed light on the possible transfer of technology between different human groups, Grun said.
“The stone tool that we’ve found with the Irhoud (skulls) is called Mousterian, which is a stone tool face that’s prevalent between about 300,000 years to about 40,000 years (ago),” he said.
“The interesting thing is that the Mousterian is also associated with Neanderthals, so it seems that the technology that the Irhoud people used is very similar to the technology that modern humans used in other places in Africa and . . . even later in Europe.”
The age of the fossils were determined using a combination of uranium-series dating, which can go back 400,000 years, and Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) dating, which measures the level of radiation in teeth to determine when they were buried. AAP