Australopithecus found in South Africa may be 1 million years older than thought

Johannesburg: Fossils of early human ancestors in South Africa may be 1 million years older than previously thought, according to a new study, putting the country back in competition for the place where humanity may have originated.

The study of hominin remains of the genus Australopithecus found in the Sterkfontein Caves north of Johannesburg — including the famous Mrs. Ples fossil — estimates their age to be between 3.4 million and 3.6 million years, Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand in a statement. That would make them older than the Lucy fossil found in Ethiopia in 1979, which is 3.2 million years old.

The skull of Australopithecus sediba from the Malapa site, South Africa.

The skull of Australopithecus sediba from the Malapa site, South Africa.Credit:Brett Eloff/University of the Witwatersrand

“This important new dating work pushes the age of some of the most interesting fossils in human evolution research, and one of South Africa’s most iconic fossils, Mrs. Ples, a million years back in time when East Africa saw other iconic fossils. find fossils. early hominins like Lucy,” Dominic Stratford, director of research at the caves and one of the authors of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences magazine, it said in a statement.

The research in Sterkfontein began in 1936 when paleontologist Robert Broom discovered the first adult hominin fossil. Hundreds of similar finds have been made at the site since then, and many were originally believed to have lived 2 million to 3 million years ago. Those finds, an earlier one in 1924, preceded the East Africa discoveries, which began in 1959.

According to the researchers, the New Age estimate was made using the radioactive decay of aluminum and beryllium isotopes in the rocks buried at the same time as the fossils. Earlier estimates were based on deposits from calcite flows that are now believed to be younger than the rest of the rocks in the cave. East African fossils were easier to date due to the presence of volcanic material.


“South Africa was largely ignored because it was so difficult to date the fossils. They were largely dismissed as irrelevant to the story of human evolution,” Ronald Clarke, a University of Witwatersrand professor and author of the article, said in an interview.

“It’s a big deal, but it does confirm that these primitive ancestors were all over Africa.”