Pushing back the start date of our species by at least 100,000 years with today’s findings does, however, beg the question just how far back can we go?Hublin put the cap on finding Homo sapiens at 600,000 years — the estimated time, based on genetic models, of a split in the , and the other to Neanderthals and Denisovans.And there is strong evidence the hominins were indeed on the move.
Within that same area of the site were the bones of gazelles, zebra, wildebeest and the antelope-like hartebeest.Paleoclimate data points to the area being more humid than today, while the animal bones found suggest, said Mc Pherron, “a landscape that is mainly open, with clumps of trees.” “The overall picture one gets is of a hunting encampment, as they were moving across the area in search of subsistence,” Mc Pherron added.“We are not claiming that Morocco became the cradle of modern humankind,” Hublin said, adding that the broader conclusion from today’s papers is that, by 300,000 years ago, a very early form of had dispersed across Africa. The partial skull and other fragments of a similar hominin, dated to about 259,000 years old, was previously found at the South African site of Florisbad.The Florisbad and Jebel Irhoud hominins may represent isolated populations of early that dispersed from an as-yet-unknown “cradle” but eventually died out; Hublin’s team believe that they are not likely to be directly ancestral to modern humans.Based on preserved features of the braincase (the part of the skull that encases, yep, the brain), the researchers believe the Moroccan hominins had a smaller cerebellum than modern humans, though not as small as that of Neanderthals.
The cerebellum has been linked to fine motor skills as well as creativity; while the Jebel Irhoud hominins might have gone unnoticed walking down a city street today, it’s likely that none of them would have had an Etsy shop.
More seriously, however, finding early with modern faces and teeth but more primitive braincases refines our understanding of the actual process of human evolution.
“The story of our species in the last 300,000 years is the story of our brain’s evolution,” said Hublin, who added that mutations likely built up over that period, changing the brain’s functional abilities along with its shape and giving the species cognitive advantages in everything from creating better technology to managing social complexities.
The researchers found an area of the site that had been preserved, and discovered more fossils — from at least five individuals — plus numerous stone tools and other artifacts, some of which appeared to have been heated in a controlled fire.
While the bones may get all the headlines, these bits of flint, apparently flaked off into the fire as tools were sharpened, are just as important: The material was perfect for dating using the thermoluminescence method.
The Face of Us The newly described Jebel Irhoud hominins — at least three adults, one adolescent and a child the researchers believe was about 8 years old at time of death — have an intriguing mix of traits.