Anthropologists say they have discovered human skin belonging to 2 million year-old fossils in the remains of six ancient skeletons found in South Africa.
The discovery may be the oldest skin ever found, and could even hold the key to valuable details about early humans’ lives. Organic materials including the remains of their last meals were found between their teeth, potentially giving an insight into their diet.
Experts made the discovery in a cave near Johannesburg, which has been excavated since a 4′ 2″ male skeleton was found in 2008.
Professor Lee Berger, an anthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told the Naked Scientists radio show: “We found out this wasn’t just a normal type of rock that they were contained in – it was a rock that was preserving organic material.
“Plant remains are captured in it – seeds, things like that – even food particulates that are captured in the teeth, so we can see what they were eating.
“Maybe more remarkably, we think we’ve found fossil skin here too.”
The investigation started after the professor’s then 9-year-old son spotted a fossilised bone.
They later excavated more bones, as well as an almost complete skull, before making the discovery public in 2010.
Scientists decided to build a laboratory on the spot in order to protect the “remarkable” fossils, including a platform that allows them to take off large pieces of the site to work on them in the laboratory.
Professor Berger says he has no idea how many more human fossils he may find.
“Every time we open up a little bit of rock here and move a little bit of dirt, we see someone new,” he said. “We’re introduced to another one of these people that died 2 million years ago.”
The site will now be turned into a live laboratory, where members of the public can look down into the cave and see excavations in process.