When it comes to ancient fossils, especially when it comes to Homo sapiens, it is very doubtful. Meaning that nothing is clear. Now, if I say we’re going to mention the oldest, I have to come up with an explanation. For several years, not so much, news kept appearing that in Morocco, at the site of Jebel Irhoud, 300,000-year-old Sabine fossils were discovered, the oldest in the world. We will not talk about these today because, among us, they are not only about Homo sapiens.
Homo sapiens reached Asia earlier than thoughtPhoto: Wikimedia Commons
It is likely to be related to archaic individuals making a hypothetical transition to our species. Just an assumption because, like I said, nothing is obvious. Therefore, we are going to bring the famous fossils from Ethiopia, from the valley of the Omo River, which has become symbolic and which for decades tells us that our species appeared about 200,000 years ago in East Africa.
The story of the Omo River Valley, at least as far as we are concerned, i.e. the fossil part, begins somewhere around 1901-1902, when a French aristocrat, Robert Bourg de Bosas, was making the first investigations there. About 30 years later, based on these observations, paleontologist Camille Aramburg, also French, went to the area. Man collected several tons of fossils, took them to Paris, sorted and researched them until he was no longer able to, only to find that there was no human trace among them.
Along the same lines, the American paleoanthropologist Clark Howell traveled to Ethiopia in 1959, and also collected a collection of fossils, only to find himself confiscated with them by the authorities because, apparently, the person had omitted the details, i.e. to obtain a permit. Well, that was the beginning.
Things changed at the beginning of the 1960s, when Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia decided it was necessary to put his country on the map through archeology. So, at a state dinner in Tanzania, Selassie approached the great Kenyan-British archaeologist and prehistorian, Louis Leakey, and asked him to come and dig in Ethiopia. He was to be paid by the royal family and to be provided with absolutely all necessary resources.
This was an offer he could not refuse. The problem was that Lewis was so sick with arthritis that he could barely walk, so he made a counter-offer. He did not come, but sent his son Richard. By now, everyone knows that Richard Leakey was a giant of science by profession. What is less well known is that science embraced him later, not least when his father sent him to discover dead horse hooves in Ethiopia.
To give you the clearest picture of what he was like at the time, we will say that Richard Leakey was about 23 years old, dropped out of school at 16, passionately hated archeology and everything his parents, famous prehistoric historians Louis and Mary did. The kid opened a small local business, running safaris all over East Africa, chasing young tourists, fun, and things like that. I mean, I repeat, the guy was 23 years old, what do you want him to do? Retiring from the monastery? finally! In short, he would lead the Ethiopian research expedition.
Somewhat more cleverly, his father pulled some strings and managed to convince the Ethiopians to bring both Camille Aramburg, who is already over 80, and the aforementioned Clark Howell to the team. People have been there before, they also have research experience, and it was just good to fill in what beginners lacked. Well, this is where the interesting things begin.
Very briefly, this campaign included three teams, a French team led by Aramburg, an American team led by Howell, and a British Kenyan team led by Leakey. They shared a huge area, hundreds of square kilometers, and each went about his business so that one would not set foot on the other. Despite the efforts, the French and the Americans found nothing. Instead, Richard Leakey went point blank, rocketed, and came up with human fossils on the first try. Please, he didn’t spot them, but his Kenyan partner, Kamuya Kimio, was also his business partner.
However, in the study published later, there is a curious indication that the original location of the fossils is “unconfirmed”. Somehow, they found them but didn’t know where exactly. Almost more than that. Who knows what stone materials they did not find, to say that you associated them with any obvious material culture. Altogether, in the few expeditions conducted during that period, 1968-1972, Leakey’s team discovered one skull (Omo I), fragments of a second (Omo 2), and the highly fragmented remains of a third.
Ah, these skulls were discovered miles away. They were also morphologically different, as if they were species separated by hundreds of thousands of years. In fact, Omo I appears to be quite recent by the standards of 200,000 years, while Omo II swears by it as Homo erectus. This is exactly what Richard Leakey indicated in the initial report, that the fossils belong to the type Homo erectus. finally.
Since there are no known dating methods of the 1960s and 1970s, they estimated that the fossils would be around 130,000 years old, which is still huge, considering that at that time no one believed human remains older than 60,000-100,000 years. Everyone was delighted, led by Emperor Silasius I who saw his mission accomplished. Ethiopia has just become the cradle of humanity.
The site in question was so important, and the fossils there have changed so much the paradigm of human evolution, that no one has gone looking for it for almost 40 years. Which is very strange. The famous dating that says the human remains at Omo are about 200,000 years old did not take place until about 30 years after the discovery. And not directly on the fossils, but on the sedimentary level where they are supposed to have been discovered. Research in the area was not resumed until after the year 2000, but without amazing results.
Meanwhile, as is known, things developed. Israel, for example, provided fossils of Homo sapiens (they are actually sapiens) attested to the same age, about 200,000 years old. It will be through China around the same time, but they are not talked about much because they are from China. Ah, so that this is still a good thing and there is no chaos in the hierarchy, starting from this year, ie 2022, the remnants of Ethiopia were handed over. The most recent, they are 233,000 years old.
Now, what I wanted was for you not to misunderstand. I did not refer to the excavations mentioned. no! What I said directly. Namely, no one is arguing with Leakey’s discovery, but you can’t pretend there aren’t a lot of white threads in this whole story. I said: I was not given boiling water!
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• Leakey REF, Butzer KW, Day MH, 1969, Remains of Early Homo sapiens from the Omo River region of southwestern Ethiopia, Nature, no. 222, pp. 1132-1138
• McDougal I., Brown FH, Flagle J. G, 2005, Stratigraphic placement and Age of Modern Human human Kibish, Ethiopia, Nature, no. 433 (7027), pp. 733-736
• Meredith M, 2011, Born in Africa: The Search for the Origins of Human Life, Ed. PublicAffairs, 288 p.
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• Vidal CM, Lane CS, Asfawossen A. et al., 2022, Age of the oldest Homo sapiens of the Eastern Africa, Nature, vol. 601, p. 579-5