Image: Maria Swärd/Getty Images

A massive lake glistens beneath the sun, cutting a clear expanse across an otherwise lush wetland, some 200,000 years ago. Here, a new species – Homo sapiens – has gathered. These modern humans have evolved from their Neanderthal ancestors, and humankind has at last started its reign. Yet scientists have just now pinpointed the surprising place where it all began.

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In fact, geneticist Vanessa Hayes of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney led a study that used specific scientific data to pinpoint this exact verdant locale. In particular, Hayes and her expert team had to rely on mitochondrial DNA, which they had gathered from the cells of 1,217 samples. This battery-shaped genetic material passes from mothers to their children, so the researchers naturally had to find a population with a maternal line that stretched far into the past.

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