The First Humans Emerged 170,000 Years Earlier Than We Thought

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The first modern humans may have emerged up to 350,000 years ago—170,000 years earlier than previously thought. Analysis of ancient DNA has allowed scientists to trace back the ancestry of people from South Africa to determine when our ancestors split from other hominin species. Their findings consistently point to an early date of divergence, between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago.

How and when modern humans first emerged as a species is a major unanswered question in paleoanthropology because the fossil record is incomplete. At present, the oldest human remains we have dated back 195,000 years. But these are not necessarily the first ever Homo sapiens—and the origin of our ancestry remains a mystery.

In a study published in Science , a team of researchers led by Marlize Lombard, from the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, looked at the remains of seven individuals who lived in KwaZulu-Natal between 2,300 and 300 years ago. Three of these lived during the Stone Age, while four others lived 300 to 500 years ago.

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