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Yet paleoanthropologists were aware of mysterious hominin fossils discovered in other parts of Africa that did not seem to fit the narrative.

In 1961, miners in Morocco dug up a few pieces of a skull at a site called Jebel Irhoud.

The people at Jebel Irhoud probably lit fires to cook food, heating discarded blades buried in the ground below.

This accident of history made it possible to use the flints as historical clocks. Hublin and his colleagues used a method called thermoluminescence to calculate how much time had passed since the blades were burned.

Despite the age of the teeth and jaws, anatomical details showed they nevertheless belonged to Homo sapiens, not to another hominin group, such as the Neanderthals.

Resetting the clock on mankind’s debut would be achievement enough.

Today, the closest living relatives to Homo sapiens are chimpanzees and bonobos, with whom we share a common ancestor that lived over six million years ago.

After the split from this ancestor, our ancient forebears evolved into many different species, known as hominins.

Using crude techniques, researchers estimated the remains to be 40,000 years old.They have found a wealth of fossils, including skull bones from five individuals who all died around the same time.Just as important, the scientists discovered flint blades in the same sedimentary layer as the skulls.In the 1980s, however, a paleoanthropologist named Jean-Jacques Hublin took a closer look at one jawbone.The teeth bore some resemblance to those of living humans, but the shape seemed strangely primitive. Hublin, now at the Max Planck Institute, recalled in an interview. Hublin and his colleagues have been working through layers of rocks on a desert hillside at Jebel Irhoud.

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