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This mix of archaic and modern features supports the theory that Homo sapiens didn’t burst onto the African scene fully formed.

But these ancient people had small faces and small chins much like ours, and their teeth look like ours, too.

The new date for the fossils suggests some elements of Homo sapiens anatomy developed a more modern appearance much earlier than thought, says Adam Van Arsdale of Wellesley College, who was not involved with the study.

The next-oldest fossils of Homo sapiens, the scientific name for humans, are about 200,000 years old.

The 200,000-year-old fossils were found in eastern Africa, sometimes called the “Garden of Eden” for its supposedly pivotal role as the birthplace of humanity.

Though the new fossils have features that don’t seem entirely human, such as a low skull, “I think we have a good instance of early Homo sapiens from Irhoud,” says Rick Potts, head of the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program, who was also not part of the study team.

But he says the idea that Homo sapiens “was assembled gradually” is “by no means a slam dunk” and needs to be shored up by more fossils from around Africa.

The study’s authors say the site, which was once a cave, may have been used as a hunting camp.

The new date for the Irhoud skeletons “changes a lot,” Brooks says.

Credit: John Hawks In 2015 researchers caused a sensation when they unveiled more than 1,500 human fossils representing some 15 individuals, male and female, young and old, discovered in South Africa.

It was an almost unimaginable bonanza, one of the richest assemblages of human fossils ever found, recovered from a chamber deep inside an underground cave system near Johannesburg called Rising Star.

Most of the bones belong to an adult male, nicknamed Neo, which means “gift” in the local Sesotho language.