New Research shows195,000 Year Old Human Fossils Just Got Older

Andrei Tapalaga
A reconstruction of the Omo I skull discovered in 1967The Natural History Museum

The Omo fossils, which are believed to be the oldest modern human remains, are fragments of a fractured cranium that have been rebuilt over time. It was once thought to be 195,000 years old, but fresh research published in Nature revealed that Omo is actually 233,000 years old.

The fossils were discovered in a place known as Kibish Omo in Ethiopia. The discovery took place in 1967 when a group of geologists was analyzing the East African Rift zone. At first, they didn’t know what to make of it as the bone pieces were quite small, and hard to tell what part of the body they came from nor if they were from a human or an animal.

After some time, archaeologists were able to fit all of the parts together and determine that they were from a Homo sapiens cranium. The next issue they encountered was determining the age of the fossils. It was difficult to gather data because there were just a few adjacent stone artifacts that could be dated. At the time, the ash in which the fossils were buried was also too fine to study. It was originally dated at least 130,000 years old based on the species identification.

It was only in 2005 that another group of geologists managed to analyze the bedrock underneath where the fossils were discovered to determine that Omo was at least 195,000 years old. From many years of study, it is believed that the Homo-sapien species is about 300,000 years old which has evolved from the Homo-erectus.

In order to find a more accurate age, a group of scientists has come together to try a different method that offered more sounding results. The researchers collected pumice samples from the Shala volcano more than 248 miles (400 kilometers) away, grinding them down until they were less than a millimeter in size. After doing a chemical analysis, they compared the pumice sample to the ash found next to the fossils when they were discovered and they seemed to match.

Next, they had to find out when had Shala volcano erupted in the past 300,000 years to determine the age. lead author Céline Vidal, a volcanologist at Cambridge University had analyzed the activity of Shala volcano and created a timeline of when the volcano erupted throughout history. When the data set was compared to the sample, they uncovered that the eruption took place 233,000 years ago, offering also the accurate age of Omo.

This means that Omo must have died during the eruption and also changes what was presented in history books. Omo was proving that modern humans lived in eastern Africa as early as 195,000 years ago, but now it seems that they have been living there 38,000 years earlier than what was presumed. Until we don’t have the full picture we can only presume what life was like 200,000 years ago.

It is not only these fossils, but many others that don't have an accurately determined age. Archeologists hope that as technology improves they will be able to give more accurate ages to fossils found and also make the process quicker.

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