Scientists from Griffith University have played a crucial role in helping an international team of archaeologists rewrite the timeline of human evolution and the migration of modern humans out of Africa.
It had been widely accepted that Homo sapiens had moved out of Africa between 90,000 and 120,000 years ago but that has now been revised after a team of archaeologists uncovered the earliest-ever human fossil found outside the continent.
The fossil, a piece of maxilla, was found in the sedimentary deposits of Misliya Cave in Israel on the edge of Mount Carmel in 2002.
Researchers from Griffith University were able to conduct a range of dating methods on the fossil which indicated an age range of between 177,000 and 194,000 years, pushing back by around 50,000 to 60,000 years the earliest evidence of modern humans ever discovered outside Africa.
Professor Rainer Grün, who led the Griffith research into dating the tooth fossil, said the discovery and subsequent dating analysis changes our understanding of the origin of our species.
“Previous finds out of Africa, in the Levantine corridor and China, dated the first modern humans to around 100,000 years but now we can prove through our dating analysis that Homo sapiens left Africa as far back as around 200,000 years ago,” Professor Grün said.
Along with Australian Research Future Fellow Dr Mathieu Duval, Professor Grün and his team from Griffith University’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (ARCHE) used a combination of dating methods on the fragile tooth specimen.
“Radiocarbon dating can only date back around 50,000 years, so this is the reason why we used uranium-series and Electron Spin Resonance methods to directly date the fossil human tooth, the only techniques that could ensure a much clearer outcome,” Dr Duval said.
“Best of all, the approach we used ensure a minimum destruction of the remains.”
The discovery, undertaken by an international team of researchers, is published in the latest edition of the journalScience.
The work is the last in a series of important scientific papers published by members of ARCHE in which the role of dating studies proved crucial.