Cosmogenic isotopes indicate that Australopithecus is a million years older

(ORDO NEWS) — Made over a hundred years in the Sterkfontein Cave near Johannesburg, finds of human ancestors have become classics.

However, now it turned out that their dating was previously carried out incorrectly, in connection with which the African Australopithecus (Australopithecus africanus) suddenly “aged” by a million years.

The Sterkfontein Caves are located near Johannesburg (South Africa) in an area that is known as the “cradle of mankind”. This is a whole system of six underground halls made of limestone at a depth of 40 meters.

Since the end of the nineteenth century, more than 500 remains of ancient human ancestors have been discovered here.

These include such “celebrities” as Little Foot (the remains of an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton), as well as Mrs. Plese – the most complete specimen of the skull of an African Australopithecus ( Australopithecus africanus ).

The age of these Australopithecus, as well as their many neighbors in the Sterkfontein caves, has been determined more than once and using a number of methods. As a result, scientists considered that they were approximately 2.1-2.6 million years old.

However, a new study by scientists from the US and South Africa calls these figures grossly underestimated. According to their estimates, depending on a certain area, the age of the caves (and hence the hominids living here) is 3.41-3.67 million years.

To obtain this result, the authors used dating based on cosmogenic isotopes. These are rare isotopes, that is, varieties of atoms of the same chemical element with a different number of neutrons, which are formed on Earth (in this case, in quartz) under the influence of cosmic rays.

Scientists have previously suspected that some representatives of the genus Australopithecus actually lived in another time.

“It seemed very strange that some Australopithecus lasted so long,” said Laurent Bruxelles, one of the authors of the new paper. Also doubtful was the huge difference in the age estimates of the two inhabitants of Sterkfontein – the mentioned Mrs. Plese and Little Foot.

Indeed, about 2.2 million years ago, Homo habilis already lived in the neighborhood in the same South Africa , which belongs to the same genus as modern man Homo sapiens . However, there is no evidence that he also looked into the Sterkfontein caves.

Errors in earlier dating were due to the use of calcite deposits, which actually formed later than the cave itself. It turns out that Mrs. Plese and other representatives of Australopithecus africanus were contemporaries of another species – Afaren Australopithecus afarensis , which includes the real “star of anthropogenesis” Lucy , who lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago.

The significance of the new research is not limited to Australopithecus. It follows that Homo had much more time for their early evolution, and that the views of human ancestry as a bush, not a tree, received new confirmation.

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