Morocco Homo sapiens fossils found by archaeologists date back more than 300,000 years, scientists now say, making them 100,000 years older than any others previously found.
A team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology found 20 human bones belonging to at least five individuals in the late 2000s, including a complete jaw, skull fragments and stone tools, according to a study in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The study said that all the human remains were dated from 280,000 to 350,000 years old.
Jean-Jacques Hublin, an author of the study and a director at the institute in Leipzig, Germany, first visited the site in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco in the 1990s but could not excavate it until 2004.
"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," Hublin said in the Nature study. "I would say the Garden of Eden in Africa is probably Africa – and it's a big, big garden."
Hublin told CNN that the find, added to a Homo sapiens skull found in South Africa, suggests that Homo sapiens were not confined to only to east Africa.
"I'm not claiming Morocco became the cradle of modern humankind," Hublin said. "Rather, we would support the notion that around 300,000 years ago, very early forms of Homo sapiens were already dispersed all over Africa.”
"This is facilitated by the fact that between 330,000 to 300,000 years before present, Africa did not look like it does today and there was no Sahara Desert. There (were) a lot of connections between other parts of the continent."
USA Today said fossils found at the site in the 1960s dated back only 40,000, implying that the Morocco site was probably a snapshot of a species in transition.
Adam Van Arsdale of Wellesley College, who was not involved with the study, told USA Today that the dates for the latest fossils suggests some elements of Homo sapiens anatomy developed a more modern appearance much earlier than thought.
George Washington University paleoanthropologist Alison Brooks told USA Today that stone tools and remnants of an ancient fire also suggest that activities typical of modern humans also emerged by 300,000 years ago.
The study's authors said the site, which was once a cave, could have been used as a hunting camp, noted USA Today.
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