Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

Evolutionary Mess

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Sometime within the last 100,000 years, say many anthropologists, Homo sapiens left Africa, traveled the world, and muscled aside all the other hominids on Earth. The "Out of Africa" theory makes a tidy story, but a new analysis of an ancient Australian skeleton suggests it may be wrong.

The skeleton, discovered in 1974 in a dry lake in New South Wales, was originally thought to be about 40,000 years old. But by combining three dating methods, Alan Thorne of Australian National University in Canberra found the bones are at least 60,000 years old. He estimates that the first humans actually reached the northern Australian coast no less than 70,000 years ago and then slowly dispersed across the continent.

The earliest Homo sapiens from Africa have a more robust build than the delicate Australian man. "But if the Out of Africa people are right, then the first Australians should look like those humans," says Thorne. He thinks the Australian skeleton supports a very different interpretation, in which ancestral humans emerged from Africa roughly 2 million years ago, and developed into separate races in widely dispersed locations.

The Australian colonists must have been bold adventurers. Their trip from Indonesia or the Philippines included long stretches with no land in sight. "Getting to Australia involves going beyond the horizon," says Thorne. "We're talking about the world's earliest ocean travel."

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In