A team led by Fitzwilliam College Fellow Dr Céline Vidal has made an exciting discovery that has extended the known age of homo sapiens as a species by over 30,000 years.
Dr Vidal is a Geography lecturer and Director of Studies at Fitzwilliam College, and is the lead author of the major new paper showing that the ash found around an early human skeleton, called Omo I, were caused by a volcanic eruption that took place 230,000 years ago.
The findings, reported in the journal Nature, dates the early homo sapiens to even earlier than that. The remains of Omo I were found in Ethiopia in the late 1960s, and scientists have been attempting to date them ever since using the surrounding volcanic ash.
“Using these methods, the generally accepted age of the Omo fossils is under 200,000 years, but there’s been a lot of uncertainty around this date,” Dr Vidal said.
“The fossils were found in a sequence, below a thick layer of volcanic ash that nobody had managed to date with radiometric techniques because the ash is too fine-grained.
"We can only date humanity based on the fossils that we have, so it’s impossible to say that this is the definitive age of our species,” Céline added.
“The study of human evolution is always in motion: boundaries and timelines change as our understanding improves. But these fossils show just how resilient humans are: that we survived, thrived and migrated in an area that was so prone to natural disasters.”