New Study Finds That Humans Are 33,000 Years Older Than We Thought

pho­to by Céline Vidal

“Where’re you from?” one char­ac­ter asks anoth­er on the Fire­sign The­atre’s clas­sic 1969 album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Any­where at All. “Nairo­bi, ma’am,” the oth­er replies. “Isn’t every­body?” Like most of the count­less mul­ti-lay­ered gags on their albums, this one makes a cul­tur­al ref­er­ence, pre­sum­ably to the dis­cov­er­ies made by famed pale­oan­thro­pol­o­gists Louis and Mary Leakey over the pre­vi­ous 20 years. Their dis­cov­ery of fos­sils in Kenya and else­where did much to advance the the­sis that humankind evolved in Africa, and that the process was hap­pen­ing more than 1.75 mil­lion years before.

Like all sci­en­tif­ic break­throughs, the Leakeys’ work only prompt­ed more ques­tions — or rather, cre­at­ed more oppor­tu­ni­ties for refin­ing and adding detail to the rel­e­vant body of knowl­edge. Sub­se­quent digs all over Africa have pro­duced fur­ther evi­dence of how far our species and its pre­de­ces­sors go back, and where exact­ly the evo­lu­tion­ary progress hap­pened.

Just this month, Nature pub­lished a new paper on the “age of the old­est known Homo sapi­ens from east­ern Africa.” These new find­ings about known fos­sils, orig­i­nal­ly dis­cov­ered in south­west­ern Ethiopia in 1967, sug­gest that the time has come for anoth­er revi­sion of the long pre-his­to­ry of human­i­ty.

pho­to by Céline Vidal

The paper’s authors, writes Reuters’ Will Dun­ham, “used the geo­chem­i­cal fin­ger­prints of a thick lay­er of ash found above the sed­i­ments con­tain­ing the fos­sils to ascer­tain that it result­ed from an erup­tion that spewed vol­canic fall­out over a wide swathe of Ethiopia rough­ly 233,000 years ago.” These fos­sils “include a rather com­plete cra­nial vault and low­er jaw, some ver­te­brae and parts of the arms and legs.” After their ini­tial dis­cov­ery by the late Richard Leakey, son of Louis and Mary (and a man gen­uine­ly from Nairo­bi, born and raised), the fos­sils buried by this pre­his­toric Vesu­vius were pre­vi­ous­ly believed to be “no more than about 200,000 years old.”

Dun­ham quotes the paper’s lead author, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge vol­ca­nol­o­gist Celine Vidal, as say­ing this dis­cov­ery aligns with “the most recent sci­en­tif­ic mod­els of human evo­lu­tion plac­ing the emer­gence of Homo sapi­ens some­time between 350,000 to 200,000 years ago.” Though Vidal and her team’s analy­sis of the ash’s geo­chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion has deter­mined the min­i­mum age of Omo I, as these fos­sils are known, the max­i­mum age remains an open ques­tion. Or at least, it awaits the efforts of researchers to date the “ash lay­er below the sed­i­ment con­tain­ing the fos­sils” and ren­der a more pre­cise esti­mate. And when that’s estab­lished, it will then, ide­al­ly, become mate­r­i­al for the next big absur­dist com­e­dy troupe.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Where Did Human Beings Come From? 7 Mil­lion Years of Human Evo­lu­tion Visu­al­ized in Six Min­utes

Richard Dawkins Explains Why There Was Nev­er a First Human Being

How Humans Migrat­ed Across The Globe Over 200,000 Years: An Ani­mat­ed Look

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er the World’s First “Art Stu­dio” Cre­at­ed in an Ethiopi­an Cave 43,000 Years Ago

The Life & Dis­cov­er­ies of Mary Leakey Cel­e­brat­ed in an Endear­ing Cutout Ani­ma­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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