The Earliest Unequivocal Evidence of Our Species May Be Even Older Than We Realized

The course of human evolution was not easy. The emergence of hominins on the African continent is full of twists, turns, gaps, and dead ends, which makes it difficult to retrace the rise of our own species.

An archaeological site in southwestern Ethiopia is one of the best lines of evidence for when and where the first Homo sapiens appeared.

The earliest examples of fossils with modern human anatomies were uncovered here in the 1960s by paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey.
Older remains are attributed to Homo sapiens and have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. The line between us and our ancestors is a lie, leaving us with the remains known as Omo I as a starting point for what is modern.

The ancient bones of this long lost descendant, named for the nearby Omo River, were buried with mollusk shells that were 130,000 years old.

We have been able to push back the age by about 200,000 years thanks to radioactive dating of the surrounding soil. Even that could be an underestimation.

A reanalysis of the archaeological site shows that the upper layer of volcanic ash deposited in an eruption about 230,000 years ago was the cause of the demise of Omo I. Researchers think that Omo I must be older than that.

The fossils were found in a sequence below a thick layer of volcanic ash that nobody had been able to date with radiometric techniques.

She was excited when she found out that the oldest Homo sapiens from the region was older than she had thought.

The new estimate shows that Omo I is the oldest Homo sapiens in Africa. Ethiopia is thought to be a cradle for our species more than 230,000 years ago, but other early humans were already using the continent as their nursery at this time.

Researchers discovered ancient human remains in Morocco that were between 280,000 and 350,000 years old.

The skulls found here are more oblong than ours, which has led some scientists to suspect that these were an archaic species of human that spread to North Africa before our more direct ancestors arrived to replace them.
We don't know how related the ancient Moroccan fossils are to our own species because their DNA analysis has not been successful.

An analysis of genes taken from the remains of a boy who lived just before migrations dramatically altered the genes of African populations several thousand years ago also suggests an ancient split of at least 260,000 years ago.

Where this split happened is a whole other matter. East Africa is an important hub for human evolution, but for all we know, there could be an older human hiding somewhere else on the continent.

The hunt for our heritage continues.

Nature published the study.