A new dating technology developed by Purdue researcher Darryl Granger is being used to re-date breccia blocks containing many of the world’s most famous South African hominin fossils.
Using this new technique, (which measures the Cosmogenic Nuclides in the rock), at the world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sterkfontein Caves have been famously known for the number of hominin fossils found within the caves.
It is by far one of the richest Australopith sites in South Africa and has been a backbone for South African Anthropology for nearly one hundred years.
Dating to what we thought was about 2.5-2.7 million years old, famous fossils such as Mrs. Ples were once thought to be a younger branch of the East African Australopithecus lines.
This may throw that in doubt.
The new dating method, which has thus far only been applied to the Sterkfontein fossils, is showing them to be a whole million years older than we once believed, placing them around 3.6 million years old. Which is older than the “Lucy” skeleton discovered in the ’70s.
However, with any new technology, it is essential to understand that there will be a margin of error, and in the way that this method works, the faunal dates that are often used to help identify the date of fossils, need not apply. This could be positive or negative for those doing the research.
It is important to realize why this is so important, understanding the paleo landscape of where our ancient relatives lived, is key to understanding how they acted, what they did, and why. Knowing how old a fossil is, and where it belongs on the fossil record, is critical to understanding its place on our braided family bush.
While it is going to take further testing and time to tell whether this new method is as successful and predictable as previous methods. As this first paper comes out detailing this new and exciting science (linked below) we can see the promise of such a new method.
We will see where it lands us, but the prospect of these new dates and their implications is very exciting! The more we learn, the less it seems that we know!
There is always more to learn!