In their own voices: groundbreaking archaeology in Morocco with Fatima Zahra

naturepic
Photo courtesy of Fatima Zahra.

This third edition of our In their own voices series finds Arabic TED Translator and TEDGlobal 2017 attendee Fatima Zahra answering the question we recently posed to the 10 TED Translators heading to Tanzania later this month: What is one significant aspect of, or recent development in, your country that you think people (and not only TED Translators) should be aware of? Below, Fatima details a historical archaeological discovery that occurred in her home country of Morocco this past spring.


In late spring of this year, a team of archaeologists working in a region of western Morocco called Jebel Irhoud uncovered the oldest known Homo sapien remains to date. Before the discovery of the 300,000-year-old fossils, which include skull bones and flint blades, the oldest known Homo sapien remains were a pair of 195,000-year-old partial skulls unearthed in Ethiopia in 2003.

The new fossils indicate that the early humans who inhabited Jebel Irhoud physically resembled both each other and contemporary people. One distinct difference between Jebel Irhoud’s dwellers and us, however, is brain structure: Their brains were the same size as ours, but they were long and low rather than round. That said, the flint blades, which were found in the same sedimentary layer as the skulls and exhibit burn signs, suggest that their makers created relatively complex weapons like wood-shafted spears and that they knew how to work with fire.

But perhaps what’s most remarkable about the Jebel Irhoud remains is that they were found in North Africa, which, because of their age, prompted Philipp Gunz, a paleoanthropologist involved with the fossils’ discovery and study, to observe that humans “did not evolve from a single ‘cradle of mankind’ somewhere in East Africa. We evolved on the African continent.” The flint blades back up this claim: They originated at a site roughly 20 miles south of Jebel Irhoud, and blades of a similar fashion and age have been uncovered at other sites throughout Africa.

Of course, researchers still have a lot of work ahead of them analyzing the Jebel Irhoud remains, but their findings so far are undeniably significant for a plethora of reasons—not least of which is that the discovery is big step forward for humanity’s understanding of its origins and history.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s