Scientists pushed the age date of the oldest Homo Sapiens remains by 30,000 years. Credit: Michael Day

New Dating Method Rewrites History of Humans in Africa

Archaeologists have clarified the dating of the Omo I fossils, which are considered by some scientists to be the oldest known remains of Homo sapiens.

It turned out that the minimum age of these finds is about 232 ± 22 thousand years, that is, significantly older than previously thought. In addition, scientists have clarified the dating of the fossils from the Herto location – they date back to about 160-155 thousand years ago. 


Which are the oldest Homo Sapiens remains?

In paleoanthropology, there is no consensus regarding which fossils are considered the remains of the most ancient Homo sapiens. One of the common traditions is the remains of the individuals Omo I and Omo II, which were discovered in 1967 by Richard Leakey in southern Ethiopia near the Omo River.

Radiometric analyzes have shown that the age of these finds is about 200 thousand years. Studies of two skulls and a postcranial skeleton allowed scientists to call these individuals humans of the modern anatomical type. However, they still possessed some archaic features that brought them closer to the Neanderthals.

Fossils in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is rich in Middle Pleistocene hominin fossils. So, one of them is the village of Herto, where archaeologists discovered the remains of ten individuals, including two skulls of adults and one child. Paleoanthropological research has shown that these people belong to the subspecies H. sapiens idaltu.

The site of the discovery of the remains of the Omo I Homo Sapiens in 1967. Credit: Fleagle et al.
The site of the discovery of the remains of the Omo I Homo Sapiens in 1967. Credit: Fleagle et al.

Celine Vidal from the University of Cambridge worked with scientists from Belgium, Botswana, Great Britain, Ireland, the United States, France, and Ethiopia to study the age of Homo sapiens fossils from the Omo and Herto sites. Archaeologists have re-sampled tuff from the Kibish Formation to determine the age of the finds.

Scientists found that the fossils are much older than we know

For radiometric dating using the argon method, the scientists took 113 samples of sanidine. As a result of the study, they found that the volcanic eruption, due to which these minerals appeared, occurred 233 ± 22 thousand years ago.

Archaeologists noted that the revised stratigraphy of the Kibish Formation also does not agree with the previously determined age – 197 ± 4 thousand years. The past dating, in their opinion, was erroneous due to the wrong selection of minerals for analysis.

Found parts of the skeleton of Omo I. Arrows indicate bones obtained during excavations in 1999–2003. Credit: Journal of Human Evolution . 2008. V. 55. P. 421–437
Found parts of the skeleton of Omo I. Arrows indicate bones obtained during excavations in 1999–2003. Credit: Journal of Human Evolution . 2008. V. 55. P. 421–437

Archaeologists have come to the conclusion that the minimum age of the remains of Omo I is 233 ± 22 thousand years. Moreover, new data on the time of the Shala eruption and information on the composition of the formed minerals make it possible to clarify the dates of other Ethiopian sites.

Thus, the remains from the Herto location were indeed much younger than Omo-I. According to scientists, these fossils date back to about 160-155 thousand years ago.

Are there older fossils than the Omo Homo Sapiens?

The fossil remains of Omo 1 are considered the oldest Homo Sapiens by some but other researchers have a different opinion. One of the other candidates is an individual from the Moroccan Paleolithic site Jebel Irhоud. Archaeologists believe the individual lived about 315 thousand years ago.

Facial reconstruction of the found fragments of a skull at Jebel Irhoud, Morocc. Credit: Hublin/Ben-Ncer/Bailey/et al./Nature
Facial reconstruction of the found fragments of a skull at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. Credit: Hublin/Ben-Ncer/Bailey/et al./Nature

However, certain paleontologists do not agree that these remains belong to the Homo Sapiens species since their skulls do not have a chin and forehead as they are expressed in modern humans. In their opinion, these bones belong to an earlier species than modern humans. For now, the origin has not been confirmed and thus, we cannot say for certain which remains are the oldest example of Homo Sapiens.


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Sources:

Bower, B. (2022, January 12). Homo sapiens bones in East Africa are at least 36,000 years older than once thought. Science News.
Callaway, E. (2017, June 7). Oldest homo sapiens fossil claim rewrites our species’ history. Nature News.
Cassella, C. (n.d.). The earliest unequivocal evidence of our species may be even older than we realized. ScienceAlert.
Magazine, S. (2022, January 12). East Africa’s oldest modern human fossil is way older than previously thought. Smithsonian.com.
Vidal, C. M., Lane, C. S., Asrat, A., Barfod, D. N., Mark, D. F., Tomlinson, E. L., Tadesse, A. Z., Yirgu, G., Deino, A., Hutchison, W., Mounier, A., & Oppenheimer, C. (2022, January 12). Age of the oldest known homo sapiens from Eastern Africa. Nature News.
Yarlagadda, T. (2022, January 12). Fossils that “clearly foreshadow” modern humans are 30,000 years older than we thought. Inverse.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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