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Thread: DNA from old skeleton suggests humanity’s been here longer than we thought

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    DNA from old skeleton suggests humanity’s been here longer than we thought

    There are a lot of caveats, but a Stone Age genome makes humanity look old.


    On Thursday, a new paper was released that makes the case that humanity's older than we thought. The finding is based on a different type of evidence: a genome from a stone-age skeleton in southern Africa. There's enough uncertainty in the work that this won't settle the issue, but the paper reinforces earlier findings that the secret to understanding our past will be found in Africa.


    That's precisely the issue that the new paper addresses. It does so by obtaining DNA from skeletons from of Stone Age Africans in the same region now occupied by the Khoe-San. These predate the Bantu arrival in the region and thus should have genomes that represent the ancestral Khoe-San population.


    So, how old are they? Comparing the Stone Age genome with other modern human genomes produces values of 285,000 to 365,000 years. The most extreme split is with the Mandinka, a population that currently occupies much of West Africa; the date of that appears to be 356,000 years.

    Again, the Khoe-San are modern humans. And if they split off that long ago, then modern humans have existed for at least that long. And that's substantially older than earlier genetic estimates.


    In the big picture of human evolution, a date of roughly 300,000 years ago would place the origin of modern humans almost half way between the present and when Neanderthals and Denisovans split off from our lineage. It also happens to be about the same time as the technology of the Middle Stone Age. It's appealing to think that whatever breakthrough made us "modern" led to some sort of mental leap that enabled new technology. But, as the Bantu themselves demonstrated, the connection between a skeleton's appearance and the technology its owner used can be extremely tenuous.

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