Photo: Hulu/National Geographic
After decades of digging up prehistoric tools, archaeologist Harold Dibble from the University of Pennsylvania uncovered a rare skull in a Moroccan Cave, the find of a lifetime.As Dribble’s team investigated, Naked Science, a documentary program on the National Geographic Channel, followed the team for an episode they called The World’s Oldest Child.
Coming into the find, researchers had no idea what species it came from, the age of the bones, or even how old the person was when they died — but they knew the find could be a big hint about how modern humans evolved.
When they found the bones, the skull was crushed into hundreds of pieces, so the team undertook major reconstructive efforts to get to know this ancient human.
Harold Dibble spent three decades digging up prehistoric stone tools before finding the human skull in Smuggler's cave, in Temara, Morocco.
Using the quartz in the soil, the researchers found that the skull is between 108,000 and 110,000 years old, from the same era in which modern human culture emerged.
They don't know what species this skull belongs to — many types of ancient humans have evolved and gone extinct over the last four million years.
While they are uncovering the bones, the researchers discover that their find is more than just a skull. There is also a clavicle and parts of a torso, making it the most complete ancient human child ever found in Africa.
Lasers look for fractures to determine how Bouchra died, but because the skull was crushed their findings were inconclusive.
By comparing Bouchra's bones with those of other ancient humans, the researchers hope they can figure out her species. But first, her bones must be put back together.
In order to digitally preserve the bones the rock encasing the skeleton is sent through a CT scanner, which reveals over 100 different pieces making up the skull, some no longer than a fingernail.
The reconstruction shows that Bouchra has modern features in her brain case and a flatter face, but also has primitive features like a protruding jaw. She seems to be a primitive homo sapien, related to modern humans.
Some of Bouchra's bones have burn marks on them which could be from a funeral process. The team heads back to take a second look at the site, to see if they can find evidence of a ritual burial or complex thought.
They didn't find evidence of a burial, but they did find 700 animal bones with markings that indicate they were hunted and killed with stone tools.
They found some sea snail shells with holes and wear marks — they were likely worn as necklaces for decoration, a definite sign of culture.
These are some of the earliest examples of modern culture and intelligent behaviours in ancient humans, the researchers concluded.
A finalised reconstruction of Bouchra's 100,000 year old face adds one last plot twist: The shape of her forehead reveals that she's actually a he!
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