Earliest human fossil outside of Africa found in Israel cave

Misliya cave on the western slopes of Mount Carmel
Misliya cave on the western slopes of Mount Carmel
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28 January, 2018

Uncovering and analysing the fossil took a combined global effort, led by Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University and anthropology professor Rolf Quam from Binghamton University in the US. And the teeth look surprisingly modern for their age, Bailey observes.

"Our research makes sense of many recent anthropological and genetic finds", he added.

And Galway-Witham suggests that there may have been an even earlier wave of human migration into the region that we just haven't found evidence of yet. That means that Misliya-1's people were probably not directly related to the people who later lived in the Qafzeh and Es-Skhul caves.

"While all of the anatomical details in the Misliya fossil are fully consistent with modern humans, some features are also found in Neandertals and other human groups", said Professor Quam. "Perhaps the co-occurrence of this tool type with early Homo sapiens at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco-and now with modern humans at Misliya-indicates some association of the development of this technology in Africa and western Asia with the emergence of Homo sapiens in these regions".

"Misliya really changes our perception of modern human evolution", Gerhard Weber, study coauthor and professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Vienna, said in an email.

The fossil could indicate that Israel and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula were part of a larger region in which H. sapiens evolved, says John Shea, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in NY. "This is early humans doing exactly that". Taken together these findings push back the earliest known occurrence of our species outside of Africa by more than 50,000 years, the authors contend.

These new findings suggest that modern humans may have had more time to interact and interbreed with archaic human lineages outside of Africa than previously thought.

More news: Environmental risks dominate growing global concerns

While older fossils of modern humans have been found in Africa, the timing and routes of modern human migration out of Africa are key issues for understanding the evolution of our own species. In the last decade alone major discoveries have been made in Jebel Irhoud Morroco & Daoxian China that contest the oldest know Homo Sapien and the furthest known migration of our earliest ancestors to the Far East.

In fact, the clues found in Misliya corroborate assumptions based on genetic evidence that modern humans emigrated from Africa more than 220,000 years ago.

Because they didn't previously have fossil evidence of Homo sapiens from 300,000 years ago, this helps to fill a small part of that gap in the fossil record. It's possible the remains belong not to ancestors of modern Homo sapiens, but to a population that later died off, he adds.

The upper jaw fossil was discovered in 2002 during an ongoing archaeological excavation at a site called Misliya, found on Mount Carmel in northern Israel. Other fossil evidence suggests Neanderthals returned to the area around 80,000 years ago. Shea notes that from the standpoint of climate and environment, Israel and its neighbors were, in essence, a part of Africa, harboring mostly the same kinds of animals.

Hershkovitz said he believes Homo sapiens may have originated some 500,000 years ago.

The Misliya cave and others like it in present-day Israel were like "train stations" that exploring humans used on their way through Europe and Asia.

It might feel like we're always pushing dates further back into history; last year the dating of a fossil pushed back the origins of anatomically modern humans in Africa by a whole 100,000 years.


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