There has always been a question mark over when humans first started walking the face of the planet, but new research indicates we came into existence more recently than previously thought.
A team of scientists at deCODE genetics sequenced the genomes of 2,636 people in Iceland, and compared the findings with nation-wide family trees. This is the biggest set ever taken and analysed from a single population, and the results, published in the journal Nature Genetics, will help scientists study the genetic causes of diseases.
But another major discovery to come out of it was the first common male ancestor of humankind. This individual, from whom all living humans are directly descended, roamed the Earth between 174,000 and 321,000 years ago, according to the analysis.
Previous studies indicated the most recent common male ancestor was much older than this – in 2013, researchers at the University of Arizona estimated he lived 340,000 years ago. The new discovery is more in line with estimates for the most recent female ancestor, who is thought to have lived 200,000 years ago.
"Humans are curious about where we came from, and how we became the way we are," Agnar Helgason, co-author of the paper, told The Verge. "And this gives us a bit more information about when."
“This work is a demonstration of the unique power sequencing gives us for learning more about the history of our species and for contributing new means of diagnosing, treating and preventing disease,” added Kari Stefansso, the study's other co-author.