Nav: Home

Dating expert ages oldest modern human

June 07, 2017

A Griffith University geochronologist's state-of-the-art dating methods push back the origins of our species by an unprecedented 100,000 years, uncovering the oldest modern human and our deep biological history in Africa.

Professor Rainer Grün, director of the leading Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (ARCHE), was among an international research team that dated fossils discovered at the archaeological site of Jebel Irhoud, Morocco.

The finds - reported on the front cover of Nature - are dated to about 300,000 years ago and represent the oldest securely aged fossil evidence of our own species.

Professor Grün said the fossils - which comprise skulls, teeth, and long bones of at least five individuals - revealed a complex evolutionary history of mankind that likely involved the entire African continent.

Jebel Irhoud has been well known since the 1960s for its human fossils and its Middle Stone Age artefacts but the interpretation of the Irhoud hominins has long been complicated because of persistent uncertainties surrounding their geological age.

Professor Grün used two dating methods - U-series and electron spin resonance - to accurately determine the age of Irhoud.

"The dating techniques I developed, currently being used at Griffith University, ensure minimal damage of the fossils but the process is very difficult to carry out," he said.

The crania of modern humans living today are characterised by a combination of features that distinguish us from our fossil relatives and ancestors - a small and gracile face, and globular braincase.

The fossils from Jebel Irhoud display a modern-looking face and teeth, and a large but more archaic-looking braincase.

"If we look at the history of human evolution, until the mid-80s it was thought model humans evolved in Africa and shortly after migrated to Europe at around 40,000 years," Professor Grün said.

"In the late 80s there were the first results of anatomically modern humans in Israel at about 100,000 years. In the 90s there were a few sites found in Ethiopia dated to 200,000 years and now with these results the origins of modern humans are further pushed back to 300,000 years."

Professor Grün said uncovering more about our history was hard because of the difficulty continuing to find fossilised human remains.

"When modern humans come to Europe they didn't bury the dead. So there are only two or three fossils that document the arrival of modern humans in Europe some 45,000 ago. In contrast, Neanderthals buried their dead but they ate them as well, leading to bone accumulations in caves" he said.

"The finds in Jebel Irhoud are one of the few places we've found modern skulls. That's why our understanding of human evolution is very patchy because we find so few human remains.

"We now have to rethink a number of principles within human evolution. This shows our species has a very deep history in Africa."

The work is the latest in a series of important scientific papers recently published by members of ARCHE, in which the role of dating studies were crucial. These include the fossilised bones of the Stone Age victims unearthed at Nataruk (Kenya), the discovery of prehistoric art and ornaments from the Indonesian 'Ice Age' and the origin of 'hobbits' found in Flores Island.

Professor Grün said these works highlighted the increasing role ARCHE played in understanding human origins and added to Griffith's reputation as becoming one of the world's leading institutions in Quaternary Geochronology.
-end-
Background:

The Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, which sits within based in Griffith's Environmental Futures Research Institute, is the first academic centre specifically focused on gaining a deeper understanding of the scale of ancient human migrations and the full story of the origins of the people in our region. An initiative of Queensland's Griffith University, ARCHE's mission is to foster research excellence through multidisciplinary projects that bring together leading Australian and international scholars and institutions in the field of human evolution, with a particular focus on two key regions: Australia and neighbouring Southeast Asia.

Griffith University

Related Human Evolution Articles:

Hunter-gatherer networks accelerated human evolution
Humans began developing a complex culture as early as the Stone Age.
Ancient gut microbiomes shed light on human evolution
The microbiome of our ancestors might have been more important for human evolution than previously thought.
Environment, not evolution, might underlie some human-ape differences
Apes' abilities have been unfairly measured, throwing into doubt the assumed belief that human infants are superior to adult chimpanzees, according to a new study by leaders in the field of ape cognition.
Neandertal genes give clues to human brain evolution
A distinctive feature of modern humans is our round (globular) skulls and brains.
Dryer, less predictable environment may have spurred human evolution
Evidence of a variable but progressively drying climate coincides with a major shift in stone-tool-making abilities and the appearance of modern Homo sapiens.
Evolution of psychiatric disorders and human personality traits
How and why human-unique characteristics such as highly social behavior, languages and complex culture have evolved is a long-standing question.
What gorilla poop tells us about evolution and human health
A study of the microbiomes of wild gorillas and chimpanzees offers insights into the evolution of the human microbiome and might even have implications for human health.
Why expressive brows might have mattered in human evolution
Highly mobile eyebrows that can be used to express a wide range of subtle emotions may have played a crucial role in human survival, new research from the University of York suggests.
Interdisciplinary approach yields new insights into human evolution
The evolution of human biology should be considered part and parcel with the evolution of humanity itself, proposes Nicole Creanza, assistant professor of biological sciences.
CLOCK gene may hold answers to human brain evolution
A gene controlling our biological clocks plays a vital role in regulating human-specific genes important to brain evolution.
More Human Evolution News and Human Evolution Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

TED Radio Wow-er
School's out, but many kids–and their parents–are still stuck at home. Let's keep learning together. Special guest Guy Raz joins Manoush for an hour packed with TED science lessons for everyone.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.