Discovered in 1967, the Omo 1 skeleton is known to be our oldest ancestor, at least of our species. Belonging to H. sapiens, moderns in fact, this rare look into our very own deep history was, and remains an extraordinary find! Discovered by the famed, and now late paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and team near the Southern Ethiopian town of Kibish. Immediately, it was apparent the importance of these finds, but just how old they were would remain a mystery until earlier this week.
Originally dated using water mollusk shells found with the remains, the skeleton was dated to around 130 ka. It was clear that due to the morphological features of the skull, this specimen belonged to our species, attributing a prominent chin, and high forehead, there was no mistaking this as a modern Homo sapiens. These remains were considered to be the oldest anatomically modern remains until 2017 when the Jebel Irhoud skull was dated to around 300,00 years ago. Researchers such as Dr. Chris Stringer, however, suggest that the Moroccan skull is an Archaic H. sapiens, so still belonging to our species, and our direct lineage, but still possessing certain features found in earlier hominins that have since been altered in our genome to not be as apparent today.
In 2005, the Omo 1 skull was related using new technologies available at the time to a much older age of 195 kya, still far short of the 300,000 years of the Jebel Irhoud specimen, but this still pushed back the origins of our very species back tens of thousands of years.
Now, a new study published in Nature shows new dating of the Kibish tuff formation, which was laid down by a massive eruption of the Ethiopian Rift’s Shala volcano, which placed a layer of sediment of the remains 233,000 years ago. Extending the age of Omo 1 a further 36k years! This shows that our species, as it stands today was around far longer, and deeper in our shared history than first believed. Leaving less time for the transition from Archaic to Modern to occur, but it is of course possible that different features were only apparent in certain environments, as it is critical to keep in mind the Moroccan fossils are from North Africa, and these fossils are from East Africa. We know the variation that occurs in Modern Day people, so we can only safely assume there would be equal, if not more morphological variation between environments millennia ago.
The new finds are important because they establish a more accurate age for the origins of our species, and this can lead to better insights into our origins both biologically and culturally. The Omo fossils, at least those designated to belong to Omo 1, are so far the oldest AMH found in the world, in what we know is our home, the great continent of Africa. What the future holds, and whether or not Omo 1 has more secrets to reveal can only be told by the future and continued and dedicated research.
Remember, there is always more to learn!