Archaeologists from Morocco announced the discovery of the oldest stone-age hand ax-making site in North Africa, dating back to 1.3 million years ago.
The find pushes back by hundreds of thousands of years the start of the Acheulean stone tool industry in North Africa, associated with the key human ancestor, Homo erectus, scientists said.
The discovery was made during excavations in a quarry on the outskirts of the country's economic capital, Casablanca.
This "major discovery … contributes to enriching the debate about the emergence of Acheulean man in Africa," said Abderrahim Mohib, co-director of the Franco-Moroccan Prehistory of Casablanca program.
Prior to this find, the presence of the Acheulean stone tool industry in Morocco was believed to date back 700,000 years.
New finds at the Thomas Quarry I site, which first became known in 1969 when half a human lower jaw was discovered in the cave, means that the Acheulean culture is almost twice as old here.
The 17-person team behind this discovery is made up of Moroccan, French and Italian researchers, and their findings are based on studies of stone tools recovered from the site.
Moroccan archaeologist Abdeluahed Ben Nser called the news a "chronological rebound."
He said that the beginning of the Achaean period in Morocco is now close to the dates of the beginning of the South and East African period - 1.6 million and 1.8 million years ago, respectively.
Previously, humans made do with the more primitive pebble tools known as Oldowan after their East African type.
According to Mohib, exploration at the Casablanca site has been carried out for decades and "has yielded one of the richest Acheulean collections in Africa."
"This is very important because we are talking about prehistoric times, a difficult period about which there is little data."
The study also confirmed "the earliest presence in Morocco of humans" who were "varieties of Homo erectus," Mohib said.
In 2017, the discovery of five fossils at Jebel Irhud in Morocco, estimated to be 300,000 years old, turned evolutionary science upside down when they were classified as Homo sapiens.
The Moroccan fossils were much older than some of the similar facial features found at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia, which are about 195,000 years old.