Sorry, Scaramucci, Earth Is MUCH Older Than 5,500 Years

Anthony Scaramucci
Anthony Scaramucci said the planet has a "5,500-year history." (Image credit: Mark Wilson/Getty)

In a 2016 interview with CNN, Anthony Scaramucci — President Donald Trump's former White House communications director — said that Earth, as well as human history, is just 5,500 years old. But ample evidence exists to prove that the world has been around for much, much longer.

Scaramucci brought up Earth's age to note that scientists had been incorrect in the past, and thus might be wrong that human activity is primarily to blame for modern-day climate change.

"You're saying the scientific community knows, and I'm saying people have gotten things wrong throughout the 5,500-year history of our planet," Scaramucci said, according to an article in Forbes by geologist Trevor Nace. Scaramucci later said that human history is 5,500 years old, Nace wrote. [7 Theories on the Origin of Life]

But exactly how old are humankind and the planet, and what evidence do scientists have for these dates?

In short order, modern humans are between 200,000 and 300,000 years old, anthropologists told Live Science, and the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

To calculate the age of Homo sapiens, researchers can rely on fossil evidence as well as genetic data. For instance, scientists recently discovered 300,000-year-old fossils of five human-like individuals in a Moroccan cave, according to two studies published in the journal Nature in June.

"The fossils in question, from the site of Jebel Irhoud, were not attributed to Homo sapiens, but were said to be very close to our origins," Rolf Quam, an associate professor of biological anthropology at Binghamton University in New York, told Live Science in an email.

Moreover, there are other fossils from two sites in Ethiopia: 195,000-year-old fossils from Omo, and 160,000-year-old fossils from Herto, and "the fossils from both of these sites are considered by anthropologists to represent Homo sapiens," Quam said.

The dates of these fossils line up with evidence from genetic data. For example, researchers compared human DNA with the DNA of Neanderthals— the closest extinct relative of modern humans. The results showed that modern humans diverged from the Neanderthal line about 500,000 years ago, said Brian Villmoare, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

It's possible there are older fossils of Homo sapiens dating to between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago, but anthropologists haven't found them yet, Villmoare said. Until those are discovered, fossil evidence indicates that modern humans arose between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago, Quam said.

It is possible Scaramucci was referring to human civilization when he made his remarks. For much of human history, Homo sapiens were hunters and gatherers. But about 10,000 years ago, after the last ice age ended, people began establishing permanent settlements, a milestone otherwise known as the dawn of civilization.

Scientists have found pottery dating to about 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), and "if you have pottery, you have settlements," Villmoare said. Another ancient settlement, known as Çatalhöyük, in what is now modern-day Turkey, dates to 7500 B.C., meaning it is roughly 9,500 years old, he said.

Still, both of these dates — the age of Homo sapiens and the dawn of civilization — are much older than the 5,500-year figure that Scaramucci quoted on CNN.

Earth's age

As for the age of the world, scientists calculate that Earth and the other planets in the solar system began to solidify between 4.567 billion and 4.568 billion years ago, Richard Carlson, a geochemist at the Carnegie Institution, previously told Live Science.

Scientists determined this age range by examining isotopes, or elements that have a different number of neutrons in their nuclei, meaning they have the same chemical properties as their fellow elements, but a different atomic mass.

When dating the solar system, researchers typically study lead and uranium isotopes. By measuring the ratios of different isotopes of these elements on Earth and from meteorites, they can determine how long ago these materials diverged from the common pool as the solar system was forming, Live Science previously reported.

These numbers are similar to the ages of the oldest recorded rocks on Earth, which formed after the planet cooled. The world's oldest fragment is a 4.4-billion-year-old zircon crystal from Australia, Live Science reported in 2014.

For the record, the oldest life on Earth may be 3.48-billion-year-old fossilized stromatolites (mats of cyanobacteria) found in Australia, Live Science reportedin May. However, Earth is young compared to the universe, which is thought to be about 13.7 billion years old, Live Science previously reported.

Editor's Note: This article was updated on July 31, 2017, to update Scaramucci's position as just-fired. 

Original article on Live Science.

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.