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Nature. 2017 Jun 7;546(7657):289-292. doi: 10.1038/nature22336.

New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens.

Author information

Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, Leipzig 04103, Germany.
Chaire Internationale de Paléoanthropologie, Collège de France, Paris, France.
Institut National des Sciences de l'Archéologie et du Patrimoine, Rabat, Morocco.
Department of Anthropology, Center for the Study of Human Origins, New York University, New York, New York 10003, USA.
School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NR, UK.
Department of Cultural Heritage, University of Bologna, Ravenna 48121, Italy.
Paleoanthropology, Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment, and DFG Center for Advanced Studies: "Words, Bones, Genes, Tools", Eberhard Karls Universität, Tübingen, Germany.


Fossil evidence points to an African origin of Homo sapiens from a group called either H. heidelbergensis or H. rhodesiensis. However, the exact place and time of emergence of H. sapiens remain obscure because the fossil record is scarce and the chronological age of many key specimens remains uncertain. In particular, it is unclear whether the present day 'modern' morphology rapidly emerged approximately 200 thousand years ago (ka) among earlier representatives of H. sapiens or evolved gradually over the last 400 thousand years. Here we report newly discovered human fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and interpret the affinities of the hominins from this site with other archaic and recent human groups. We identified a mosaic of features including facial, mandibular and dental morphology that aligns the Jebel Irhoud material with early or recent anatomically modern humans and more primitive neurocranial and endocranial morphology. In combination with an age of 315 ± 34 thousand years (as determined by thermoluminescence dating), this evidence makes Jebel Irhoud the oldest and richest African Middle Stone Age hominin site that documents early stages of the H. sapiens clade in which key features of modern morphology were established. Furthermore, it shows that the evolutionary processes behind the emergence of H. sapiens involved the whole African continent.

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