Archaeologists have been stunned after a fossil discovered in 1967 turned out to be mankind’s oldest remnant.
Even though the fossil, known as “Omo I”, was discovered in Ethiopia, scientists have struggled to estimate the exact age of these remains.
But an international team of experts led by researchers from the University of Cambridge have established that the fossil is much older than expected.
Dr Céline Vidal, the study’s lead author, and her colleagues attempted to date all major volcanic eruptions in the Ethiopian Rift to the time of the emergence of Homo sapiens – a period known as the Middle Pleistocene. late – during a four-year period. year project.
The team collected samples of pumice rock from the volcanic deposits and ground them down to sub-millimeter size.
By dating the chemical “fingerprints” of the layers of volcanic ash that lay below and above the fossil, experts were able to calculate that the fossil could be in the region of 30,000 years earlier than previous estimates of the early human life form.
The discovery is vital for the archaeological community because these remains prove that modern humans roamed the Earth long before the previously estimated 200,000 years ago.
“Using these methods, the generally accepted age of the Omo fossils is less than 200,000 years, but there has been a lot of uncertainty around that date,” Dr Vidal said.
“Each eruption has its own fingerprint – its own evolutionary history below the surface, which is determined by the path taken by the magma.
“Once you crush the rock, you release the minerals inside, then you can date them and identify the chemical signature of the volcanic glass that holds the minerals together.”
Study co-author Professor Asfawossen Asrat, from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, said: “Our closer examination of the stratigraphy of the Omo Kibish formation, in particular the layers of ashes, allowed us to push the age of the oldest Homo sapiens in the region back to at least 230,000 years.”
Another co-author, Dr Aurélien Mounier, from the Musée de l’Homme de France, added: “Unlike other Middle Pleistocene fossils thought to belong to the earliest stages of the Homo sapiens lineage, Omo I possesses unmistakable modern human characteristics, such as a high, bulging cranial vault and chin.
“The new date estimate makes it, de facto, the oldest undisputed Homo sapiens in Africa.”
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