How old is humankind and where did it start?

Until recently, the answers to these questions were that humans evolved around 200,000 years ago and originated in East Africa. As this article explains:

“Scientists have long looked to East Africa as the birthplace of modern humans. Until the latest findings from Jebel Irhoud, the oldest known remnants of our species were found at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia and dated to 195,000 years old. Other fossils and genetic evidence all point to an African origin for modern humans.”

But now we have to rethink things following an astonishing discovery:

“Fossils recovered from an old mine on a desolate mountain in Morocco have rocked one of the most enduring foundations of the human story: that Homo sapiens arose in a cradle of humankind in East Africa 200,000 years ago.

Archaeologists unearthed the bones of at least five people at Jebel Irhoud, a former barite mine 100km west of Marrakesh, in excavations that lasted years. They knew the remains were old, but were stunned when dating tests revealed that a tooth and stone tools found with the bones were about 300,000 years old.”

So humankind might be a lot older than we thought and may have originated in multiple locations rather than in one specific place.

Jean-Jacques Hublin is a senior scientist on the investigating team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig:

“Hublin concedes that scientists have too few fossils to know whether modern humans had spread to the four corners of Africa 300,000 years ago. The speculation is based on what the scientists see as similar features in a 260,000-year-old skull found in Florisbad in South Africa.

But he finds the theory compelling. “The idea is that early Homo sapiens dispersed around the continent and elements of human modernity appeared in different places, and so different parts of Africa contributed to the emergence of what we call modern humans today,” he said.”


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