The Oldest Homo sapiens in East Africa
The Omo 1 remains are at least 36,000 years older than once thought
It is largely agreed upon that Homo sapiens originated in East Africa sometime around 200,000 years ago. Only eight sites in Africa have yielded Homo sapiens remains. A Nature paper in 2017 shook this all up with the discovery of 300,000-year-old Homo sapiens remains in what is now modern day Morocco1. We have since been reanalyzing the timing of the emergence of Homo sapiens.
A new paper, published today, in Nature adds to that shake up. The authors of this paper took a closer look at a layer of ash and sediment that yielded Omo 12. Omo 1 is a Homo sapiens skull and skeletal remains which were discovered in Kibish rock formation along Ethiopia’s Omo river in 1967. Geologists in 2005 analyzed the layer of rock just underneath the find and determined Omo I was at least 195,000 years old3. But the community has been divided over their age.
The authors of the current paper have concluded that this layer of ash has a chemical fingerprint that matches that of ash from a massive volcanic eruption from a crater 350 km northeast. This eruption occurred 233,000 years ago. Dating of this ash pushes the estimated age of the Omo 1 remains by 36,000 years or more. An age well exceeding 200,000 years for the Ethiopian fossils now fits with recent fossil discoveries suggesting that Homo sapiens emerged much earlier than we understood before.
Hublin, JJ., Ben-Ncer, A., Bailey, S. et al. New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens. Nature 546, 289–292 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22336
McDougall, I., Brown, F. & Fleagle, J. Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia. Nature 433, 733–736 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03258