Until now, the oldest known fossils of our species dated back just 195,000 years—a pair of partial skulls were discovered in Ethiopia in 2003 when researchers were working at a site called Omo-Kibish. But a team of European and Moroccan scientists just unearthed some more fossils that totally rewrite the story of mankind’s origins.
These fossils, 315,000 years old, are officially the oldest known remains of Homo sapiens, and they suggest that our species evolved in multiple locations across Africa. They also indicate that those folks had faces much likes our own, even though their brains were fundamentally different.
Quite literally, they dug up some deets on us.
Jean-Jacques Hublin, who directs the department of human evolution at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, led the team that found the skull, bones and teeth of five individuals, as well as stone tools and charcoal that indicate the use of fire. They were all found in a remote area of Morocco called Jebel Irhoud, which was once a cave.
However, as with all monumental findings, there’s always controversy. And this is quite the claim. Some anthropologists are iffy, debating exactly what physical features distinguish modern humans from our more primitive ancestors. Among the skeptics is paleoanthropologist Rick Potts, who’s in charge of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History’s human origins program. He says the skull’s features—especially the elongated cranium and face shape—suggest it could be a more primitive ancestor of humans and perhaps came just before modern humans evolved.
Regardless, it’s a pretty neat glimpse back in time.
And now more than ever, scientists are clear on the fact that humanity’s ancestors and early forms of people were popping up all over the African continent—eastern Africa, southern Africa and now, apparently, northern Africa.