Thursday, February 17, 2005

Anatomically modern Omo fossils are very old

The NYTimes reports on an article to appear in Nature today that fossil remains originally found in 1967 have been re-dated with a much older result than previously reported. The Omo remains (Omo I and Omo II) differ slightly, but Omo I is essentially modern human in its features. The new dates, 190,000 years old, make them the oldest modern remains yet found. Those dates also come into line with estimates of the age of the human lineage from genetic evidence. (A blog which covers mitochondrial DNA dating is Dinekes . ) Together, the case looks pretty strong that anatomically modern humans arose in Africa. The Times, and The New Scientist , emphasize that the older date for these fossils suggest that humans stayed in Africa quite a while before dispersing.

The distinct look of the Omo II remains, combined with the very close dating results, again emphasize that humans evolved for quite a while alongside many closely related hominids, including Hobbits and Neandertals. (The Omo fossil beds have also yielded Homo Sapiens Idatu (elder) .) Very likely H. Sapiens Sapiens (we) killed them all, either directly or by outcompeting for their ecological niches. Orangutans and gorillas are next.

UPDATE: The US National Science Foundation, which funded part of the work, has a good description here. The work of dating the fossils required some effort- they trouble locating the site of the 1967 dig. They finally were able to use National Geographic footage to find some landmarks, collect the stratigraphic samples, and date the remains. You gotta love the sidebar, with its pictures of spear-carrying natives. Come on!

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