When you find out that fossils belonging to early humans turn out to be one million years older than paleontologists initially thought, it can surely freak you out. That’s what happened in the case of fossils belonging to human ancestors that were found in the Sterkfontein Cave in South Africa.
According to CNN, the newest research indicates that the fossils in question are one million years older than initially thought. Scientists started to unearth ancient human fossils from the South African a long time ago, and it was in 1936 that the first remnants of an adult Australopithecus were found. Since that time, paleontologists have unearthed numerous other fossils.
Between 3.4 and 3.6 million years old
The newest calculations indicate that the fossils in question are somewhere between 3.4 million and 3.6 million years old, making them a million years older than it was initially thought.
However, that is still nowhere near the first human ancestor, which is known as Ardipithecus, also the likely ancestor of Australopithecus. Ardipithecus lived somewhere between 5.8 million and 4.4 million years ago.
But why is it so hard to get a good date on human fossils? Darryl Granger, the lead author of the new study who’s also a professor at the College of Science from the Purdue University, explained as CNN quotes:
Sterkfontein has more Australopithecus fossils than anywhere else in the world,
But it’s hard to get a good date on them. People have looked at the animal fossils found near them and compared the ages of cave features like flowstones and gotten a range of different dates. What our data does is resolve these controversies. It shows that these fossils are old — much older than we originally thought.
Along with the new discovery, scientists might be forced to rethink some aspects of human evolution.
While plenty of early human ancestors had been around for millions of years, the modern human species have existed for only about 200,000 years. They evolved from Homo erectus, their common ancestor.
The new study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).