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But how do we know the exact age of that specific layer in the first place?
Thankfully, volcanic activity has occurred periodically in East Africa for about the last 30 million years and, has allowed us to use some powerful dating tools in geology.
The ages assigned to these fossils have been obtained through radiometric dating of volcanic rocks interbedded with the fossiliferous sediments.
Such numerical calibrations are crucial to understanding rates and timing of evolutionary change.
That led the researchers to conclude that man's early ancestor had plenty of human-like company from other species.
Details of the evolutionary pathways that led from the earliest hominids of Africa to modern Homo sapiens sapiens have been enigmas and the source of controversy.
Although most anthropologists believe that the human race originated in Africa, the new measurements open the possibility that although man's prehuman ancestors began in Africa, different variants of the primate genus Homo may have independently evolved in Africa, Europe and Asia.
But other experts in human evolution are not convinced by what they say is a leap to large conclusions based on limited evidence.
It is the continuation of a long-running squabble in anthropology about the earliest members of our own genus, or class, called Homo an increasingly messy family history.