Fossils of early human ancestors found in a South African cave may not be the sprightly young things we once thought they were. A new study suggests that those ancient hominin remains — which include the famous Mrs. Ples skull of an Australopithecus africanus discovered in 1947 — in the Sterkfontein caves near Johannesburg are not just 100,000, nor 200,000, nor 500,000, nor 700,000, nor 950,000, but a million years older than previously thought.
The previous approximation was already pretty up there in age, with estimates placing specimens from the site around 2 million to 2.6 million years old. But the researchers behind the new study found that 3.4 million to 3.6 million is the more accurate range.
This has huge implications, as Ronald Clarke, a professor at the University of Witwatersrand and one of the paper’s authors, told Bloomberg: “South Africa was largely ignored because it was so difficult to date the fossils. They were largely dismissed as not being relevant to the story of human evolution … It’s a big deal, this does confirm that these primitive ancestors were all over Africa.”
Even more significantly, the findings indicate that Mrs. Ples and her Sterkfontein posse may actually be older than that bitch Lucy, an even more prominent female-turned-fossil who was discovered nearly half a century ago in Ethiopia at the ripe age of 3.2 million. Time for the world at large to finally put some respect on Mrs. Ples’s elderly name.