Africa, the giant cradle of our humanity

This article is excerpted from n°204 of the Indispensables de Sciences et Avenir for January/March 2021.

In 2017, homo sapiens Old age has taken a turning point with the discovery of bones over 300,000 years old. A leap in time that could revolutionize our prehistoric textbooks… because these remains are 100,000 years older than the still accepted age for our ancestors. Better ! These remains were not found in East or South Africa, areas that were not long ago disputing the title of the Cradle of the Sapiens, but in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. Some were already known from the 1960s. Responsible for this new excavation campaign were Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max-Planck Institute in Leipzig and professor at the Collge de France, and paleontologist Abdelouheed Ben-of the National Institute of Archaeological and Heritage Sciences in Rabat, Morocco. Professor NCER however had an idea that the site still hid a surprise… an intuition has been confirmed! Sixteen new fossils have been discovered, and thermoluminescence dating has made it possible to forget the age of 40,000 declared in the 1960s according to Carbon 14 dating. The peculiarity of these fossils is that both features present a flattened face that is typical of modern homo sapiens, and less rounded skulls than those of other more archaic, especially more recent sapiens. “I do not know whether the descendants of some of the individuals discovered in Jebel Irhoud, specifies Jean-Jacques Hublin. But it is undeniably a group that is physically very close to our ancestors.” Jebel Irhoud, the Cradle of Sapiens? Not quite sure…

By the 1990s, paleontologists could still defend the idea of ​​the emergence of many more ancient sapiens: according to this so-called multigenerational hypothesis, modern populations would come directly from local archaic groups that had been rooted for hundreds of thousands of years. in Africa, Asia and Europe, descending from the human species themselves, as man standingleft Africa 2 million years ago. ,This hypothesis is part of a very old historical tradition. It echoes the Bahujanist principles of the 18th century (Modern men will be as many descendants of Adam and Eve as continents are, editor’s note), Jean-Jacques Hublin explains. In the early 20th century, people went so far as to falsify paleoanthropological data to recognize it, for example with the fossils of Piltdown Man.” Bones “discovered” in Great Britain were presented as evidence of the existence in Europe of the missing link between humans and monkeys. It was actually… a modern human skull attached to an orangutan mandible!

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