Sun, 06 Mar 2005


Dating of bones makes mankind 35,000 years older

Human bones previously thought to be 130,000 years old are now believed to be much older and could date back to the dawn of humankind, a study published on Feb. 17 has found.

An analysis of the site where the bones were found nearly 40 years ago in Ethiopia revealed that they are roughly 195,000 years old, 35,000 years older than the fossils previously thought to be the oldest of any humans, found at another site in Ethiopia.

The discovery "pushes back the beginning of anatomically modern humans", said geologist Frank Brown, who co-authored the study published in the journal Nature.

Researchers estimated the age of the bones by dating the volcanic ash above and below the layers of river sediment containing the bones.

In addition to providing more proof of the age of mankind, the discovery reenergizes the scientific debate over why cultural fossils -- such as tools and musical instruments -- do not appear to be older than 50,000 years. Only stone knives have been dated before that time.

"As modern human anatomy is documented at earlier and earlier sites, it becomes evident that there was a great time gap between the appearance of the modern skeleton and modern behavior," added anthropologist and study co-author John Fleagle.

Archeologists discovered the fossils in 1967 near the Omo River in southwestern Ethiopia. One site produced part of a skull and skeletal bones from an individual named Omo I. A second location produced a more complete skull with more primitive characteristics of a person scientists named Omo II.

Although the skulls exhibit different characteristics, scientists called both specimens Homo sapiens and believe them both to be from roughly the same period.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Australian National University. -- DPA