The age of the hominin fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and the origins of the Middle Stone Age
Thermoluminescence dating of fire-heated flint artefacts, and directly associated newly discovered remains of Homo sapiens, indicate that the Middle Stone Age site of Jebel Irhoud in Morocco is 383-247 thousand years old.
The timing and location of the emergence of our species and of associated behavioural changes are crucial for our understanding of human evolution. The earliest fossil attributed to a modern form of Homo sapiens comes from eastern Africa and is approximately 195 thousand years old1,2, therefore the emergence of modern human biology is commonly placed at around 200 thousand years ago3,4. The earliest Middle Stone Age assemblages come from eastern and southern Africa but date much earlier5,6,7. Here we report the ages, determined by thermoluminescence dating, of fire-heated flint artefacts obtained from new excavations at the Middle Stone Age site of Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, which are directly associated with newly discovered remains of H. sapiens8. A weighted average age places these Middle Stone Age artefacts and fossils at 315 ± 34 thousand years ago. Support is obtained through the recalculated uranium series with electron spin resonance date of 286 ± 32 thousand years ago for a tooth from the Irhoud 3 hominin mandible. These ages are also consistent with the faunal and microfaunal9 assemblages and almost double the previous age estimates for the lower part of the deposits10,11. The north African site of Jebel Irhoud contains one of the earliest directly dated Middle Stone Age assemblages, and its associated human remains are the oldest reported for H. sapiens. The emergence of our species and of the Middle Stone Age appear to be close in time, and these data suggest a larger scale, potentially pan-African, origin for both.