Skull fragments, stone tools and animal bones found at the Jebel Irhoud archaeological site in Morocco reveal that human ancestors lived around 300,000 years ago instead of 200,000 as previously believed, researchers say. This Guardian story gives the most complete account of the discovery.
Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institution for Evolutionary Anthropology, the leader of the project, identifies the creatures as the first homo sapiens, although other scientists are not so sure.
While the human ancestors' brainpan was smaller than modern people's, their faces were similar to ours. One of them would not draw a second look taking a ride on the London subway, one researcher said.
The finding in Morocco brought another surprise. Scientists before had believed that humans originated in East Africa. The new evidence indicates that early humans had spread across all of Africa. One researcher explained that instead of one isolated Garden of Eden, human origin sites existed across the entire continent.
Also of interest was the discovery of tools showing a much earlier use of an innovative technique for flaking off pieces of stone to make a sharp edge.
They were not quite us, but very close. They made tools, gathered around the fire, and had human faces. They could think abstractly and make plans, traveling to a hunting site teeming with gazelles. They banded together as a family, and understood death. One of the bone fragments was of an 8-year-old child.
Our story stretches back 300,000 years. That should make us more reverent about preserving the Earth that has borne us for so long.