The Oldest Human Fossils Just Got Discovered

Well, this is sort of a big deal – our own species, Homo Sapiens, is 50% older than we thought!

An ancient skull found in the Jebel Irhoud cave in Morocco has actually been around for awhile, but was recently re-dated. This new data shows that modern humans emerged 300,000 years ago – 100,000 years earlier than previously known.

This fossil shows that modern humans evolved “face-first” – our faces flattened before the backs of our skulls finished developing into their contemporary shape.

Searches for the origins of humans have historically centered around Africa’s Great Rift Valley, so finding this specimen in Morocco was somewhat unexpected. Morocco would have been at the edges of the ranges of Homo at the time, based on what we currently know.

The details are presented in the journal Nature.

Image credit: / ozandogan

Let’s Re-Animate Egyptian Mummies!

Well, let’s not jump the gun. But a recent article in Science Magazine reports that DNA from Egyptian mummies has been successfully recovered for the first time!

This is a big deal, because previously it was believed that no DNA from this era survived. However, Johannes Krause, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, came across a collection of 151 mummy heads (that must be a sight) and successfully extracted mitochondrial DNA from them.

The mummies originated from the ancient settlement of Abusir el-Meleq south of Cairo, which was dedicated to Osiris, god of the dead, and a popular burial location. These remains represent a wide range of 1300 years of ancient Egyptian history.

It’s an embarrassing fact that we didn’t really know what ancient Egyptians looked like, but this DNA is giving us concrete information about the ancestry of these people once and for all. Interestingly, early results show that ancient Egyptians had no sub-Saharan African ancestry at all, while modern Egyptians do. So at some point, a shift in the population took place. These mummies demonstrated remarkably consistent ancestry, closely related to Near-Eastern areas – notably Levant, which encompasses modern Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon.

Nobody’s talking about cloning a mummy head just yet! But what we’ve already learned from this genetic material is exciting stuff.

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