Start Radiation dating game

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But in the excavation itself, the heat is enough to make anyone doubt his eyes.

Ever since the discovery the couple have devoted themselves to chopping away at that stubborn little word if.

In the face of the entrenched skepticism of their colleagues, it is an uphill task. In those same four years since the first harpoon was found at Katanda, a breakthrough has revived the question of modern human origins.

The breakthrough is not some new skeleton pulled out of the ground.

Nor is it the highly publicized Eve hypothesis, put forth by geneticists, suggesting that all humans on Earth today share a common female ancestor who lived in Africa 200,000 years ago.

Four years ago archeologists Alison Brooks and John Yellen discovered what might be the earliest traces of modern human culture in the world. Thirty yards below, the Semliki River runs so clear and cool the submerged hippos look like giant lumps of jade.

Their discovery came on a sun-soaked hillside called Katanda, in a remote corner of Zaire near the Ugandan border.

Until now, however, the period between half a million and 40,000 years--a stretch of time that just happens to embrace the origin of Homo sapiens--was practically unknowable by absolute dating techniques.

It was as if a geochronological curtain were drawn across the mystery of our species’ birth.

To put this in perspective, imagine discovering a prototypical Pontiac in Leonardo da Vinci’s attic.

If the site is as old as we think it is, says Brooks, it could clinch the argument that modern humans evolved in Africa.

From the rubble he extricated a beautifully crafted, fossilized bone harpoon point.