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Humanity’s origins are much older and more complicated than initially thought, according to a new study on early human remains.
Scientists recently found that prehistoric fossils discovered in South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves are a million years older than previously believed, the Washington Post reported.
The Sterkfontein Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known as the “Cradle of Humankind” because of the hundreds of Australopithecus fossils of human ancestors found at the site since 1936.
Among the key discoveries was the complete skull of “Mrs. Ples” – although there is an ongoing debate that the fossil actually belongs to “Mr. Ples”
Despite being the “cradle,” anthropologists had long believed that the earliest hominin emerged in East Africa after the discovery of the 3.2-million-year-old skeleton Lucy in Ethiopia in 1974.
But the new findings suggest that Lucy and Mrs. Ples were “contemporaries” who lived around the same period and had time to evolve.
Researchers analyzed radioactive decay in rocks buried at the same time as the fossils in the Sterkfontein Caves and found they are 3.4 million to 3.6 million years old.
“This important new dating work pushes the age of some of the most interesting fossils in human evolution research, and one of South Africa’s most iconic fossils, Mrs. Ples, back a million years to a time when, in East Africa, we find other iconic early hominins like Lucy,” said co-author Dominic Stratford.
Stratford and his colleagues explained that the age of the remains helps scientists understand “how and where humans evolved, how they fit into the ecosystem, and who their closest relatives are and were.”