French paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin, who led research on an exciting fossil discovery in Morocco, says the resulting findings see a move "further and further away" from "a linear vision of human evolution with a succession of species" This week's unveiling of the oldest-known Homo sapiens remains has painted an excitingly chaotic picture of what Earth was like 300,000 years ago—bustling with hominin species that included a very early version of our own, experts say.The story of human evolution, this shows, does not follow a straight line from monkey to ape-man to architect.Rather than emerging from a single "Garden of Eden" 200,000 years ago before spreading throughout Africa and the world, early modern humans were already scattered across the Mother Continent a hundred millennia earlier.Even then, homo sapiens were living in distinct groupings that met occasionally, trading technology and genes.They also rubbed shoulders with rival Homo species, which may have included their own direct ancestor, according to analysis of the sensational findings.Africa, at the time, would have resembled "a kind of human zoo", said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who led the research on five human fossils from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco.
For Lawrence Barham of the University of Liverpool, the dating of the Moroccan site helps us to see our species more clearly in time and in space.The previous oldest Homo sapiens remains ever found, in Ethiopia, were 195,000 years old."An earlier date of 300,000 years is significant from the perspective of human evolution in Africa itself, where Homo sapiens may have co-existed with at least two other species—Homo heidelbergensis and Homo naledi," Barham commented. Many scientists hypothesise that the large-brained H.heidelbergensis was the common ancestor from which H.
sapiens and our cousins the Neanderthals split around half-a-million years ago. naledi had a smaller brain and retained some ape-like features—it likely climbed trees as well as made tools.
Now the question arises: did these different African species compete?