(ORDO NEWS) — Fossils of early human ancestors found in a South African cave system may be 1 million years older than previously thought, study says.
The results of the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that they are between 3.4 and 3.6 million years old – older than the famous Ethiopian fossil Lucy or Dinkinesh, which was discovered in 1974 and dates back to 3.2 million years.
Ancient hominin fossils have been discovered in the Sterkfontein Caves, located 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Cradle of Humankind”. Hominins include humans and our ancestral relatives, but not other great apes.
“Because Sterkfontein has the largest concentration of Australopithecus fossils from any single site in Africa, it has become a critical part of the research and debate about our origins,” Professor Kathleen Koeman, who was part of the research team led by Purdue University, told NBC News Wednesday.
Koeman, professor emeritus at the University of the Witwatersrand, added that the new dates “show that these South African fossil hominids were largely contemporaneous with and unlikely to be descendants of species in East Africa like Australopithecus afarensis, better revealing the more complex nature of how species evolved in the past.”
Lucy or Dinkinesh and her species, Australopithecus africanus, are about 3.9 million years old, according to a Purdue University press release.
It adds that the research team used a new technology developed at the university to date South African fossils that scientists previously thought were between 2 million and 2.5 million years old.
So the debate about the origins of modern humans has been rekindled by this study.
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