This is us: Earliest fossils of our species found in Morocco

The first almost-complete adult mandible discovered at the site of Jebel Irhoud in Morocco

Until now, the oldest fossils of our species, found in Ethiopia, dated back just 195,000 years. The human species roamed Africa 300,000 years ago, according to new research that pushes back human origins by 100,000 years. They also applied new dating methods, which pushed back the age of all the fossils to a stunning 300,000 years.

"It is not the story of it happening in a rapid way in a "Garden of Eden" somewhere in Africa", Dr. Jean-Jacques Hublin, a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany who was involved in the discovery, told BBC News.

"What we think is before 300,000 years ago, there was a dispersal of our species - or at least the most primitive version of our species - throughout Africa", Hublin says.

Today, the closest living relatives to H. sapiens are chimpanzees and bonobos, with whom we share a common ancestor that lived over 6 million years ago.

This supported animal life like gazelles, zebras, wildebeests, lions and other big cats - all of which were discovered at the site through fossil evidence of animals that these Homo sapiens hunted.

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Hublin first became familiar with Jebel Irhoud in the early 1980s, when he was shown a puzzling specimen of a lower jawbone of a child from the site; later excavations found a braincase, as well as sophisticated stone tools and other signs of human presence.

These reconstructions of the fossils indicate the brain shape (shown here in blue), and possibly brain function, evolved within the Homo sapiens lineage.

Writing in the journal Nature, Hublin and colleagues said the skulls belong to clearly modern humans, even if the head shape is a little longer and narrower than those of modern people. A skull was found in Florisbad, South Africa, in the 1930s and originally dated to 260,000 years ago, but it's fragmentary and the exact date is subject to debate, the researchers said.

Dating was done by thermoluminescence, a pinpoint-accurate technology which measures the accumulated exposure of stone minerals to radiation generated by heat from the Sun, a volcano, or a human cooking fire. "We realized this site was much older than anyone could imagine".

Professor Groves said the structure of skulls are very similar to Homo sapiens skulls found at Omo Kibish and Herto, another site in Ethiopia.

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This discovery, combined with a Homo sapien skull found in South Africa, challenges the theory that Homo sapiens were confined to east Africa.

The Sahara was effectively "green" at the time, with open grasslands, groupings of trees, rivers and huge lakes and more wet and humid than it is today. They were short, had small brains, and could fashion only crude stone tools.

"It really seemed like people were fond of hunting", she said.

And the flint tools found with the fossils were made using a primitive technique known as Lavallois, which involved roughly shaping a stone before splitting it to create a blade of a desired shape. Although they tried to extract DNA from them, it wasn't there, Hublin said. Hublin was one of the leaders of the decade-long excavation at the Moroccan site, called Jebel Irhoud.

"Our results challenge the preconceived notion of early modern humans in East Africa in many ways regarding the date of emergence of our species, the geographical conditions of this emergence and the conditions of the evolution of the early forms of Homo sapiens", Hublin said.

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But given their modern-looking face and teeth, Hublin said, these people may have blended in today if they simply wore a hat.

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