A recent study of human fossils from the Sterkfontein Caves in South Africa reignited debates about the origin of humans. The caves are home to Mrs. Ples’ skeleton, as they nicknamed the fossils of a cave woman found. Her fossils date back to between 3.4 to 3.6 million years ago.

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“But it’s hard to get a good date on them,” said Darryl Granger, a professor at Purdue University who specializes in dating geologic deposits, said in a statement. “…these fossils are old — much older than we originally thought.”

With the findings, scientists now say that hominins existed in South Africa the same period that the known oldest remains in East Africa date to. In 1974, the skeleton of a woman named Lucy found in Ethiopia dates back to 3.2 million years ago.

With the recent dating of Mrs. Ples’ skeleton, the theory that humans originated from East Africa is under contention. For a long time, archeologists have held the view that the earliest hominins existed in East Africa, but now that is open to debate.

The study indicates that the South African hominins, which had been considered “too young” to be ancestors of the Homo genus, were actually “contemporaries” of those in East Africa and had the time to evolve, said Dominic Stratford, director of research at the caves and one of the paper’s authors.

Fossil dating is an important archeological practice that helps scientists understand where humans evolved and how they fit into the ecosystem. The researchers on Mrs. Ples’ skeleton examined radioactive decay in rocks buried at the same time as the fossils in order to estimate the date.

“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 Dominic Stratford, director of research at the caves.

Via Washington Post

Lead image via Pixabay