Summary: It was believed that Homo sapiens first appeared in East Africa 200,000 years ago. Over the last few years, remains of five members of H. sapiens have been recovered from a mine in Morocco. They have now been dated to be 300,000 years old!
I have been thinking and reading a lot about this subject over the last couple of years, and my thoughts have changed quite a bit. In particular, I've come to the conclusion that our taxonomic terms confuse more than they elucidate when it comes to human evolution.
Take the above. You say that H. sapiens
was believed to appear in East Africa 200,000 years ago, but is that really the case? It's worth remembering that it has at various times been common to refer to neanderthals as H. sapiens neandertalensis
, and some workers still do so today. So, by this classification, there were H. sapiens
in Europe more than 250,000 years ago.
But the article authors are using a more narrow sense of H. sapiens
. They're equating it to 'anatomically modern humans'. But this is another problematic term. One of the most obvious features of AMHs is the prominent chin, but looking at the reconstructed skull from Jebel Irhoud in the article you link to, my amateur eye can not discern much of a skull.
So it seems what's really being announced here (assuming the reconstruction is acurate) is that there were people in Morocco 300,000 years ago who were not quite like us, but looked a bit more like us than Neanderthals. Which when you think about it is not at all surprising. It's only the arbitrary labels that make it so.
I have come to the conclusion that asking where modern humans arose is an essentially meaningless question; now we know from ancient genomes than Neanderthals and other populations in Asia contributed to the modern genome. The more appropriate question is 'how were the populations of Pleistocene humans structured, and how did that change'. This might be a question that doesn't lead to as catchy headlines, but it also makes more sense.
(Apologies for any lack of clarity in the above - bit drunk).