Published On: Sat, Jan 27th, 2018

Remains of Earliest Modern Human Outside of Africa Unearthed in Israel

Discovery of jawbone of earliest modern human pushes back history of Homo sapiens migration by at least 50,000 years, Israeli researchers say

 

Earliest modern human / Gerhard Weber, University of Vienna, Austria

 

A jawbone complete with teeth dated to 177,000-194,000 years ago was found in northern Israel suggesting that modern humans left Africa at least 50,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The fossil of an adult upper jawbone with several teeth discovered at the Misliya cave, one of several prehistoric cave sites located on Mount Carmel.

“This finding — that early modern humans were present outside of Africa earlier than commonly believed — completely changes our view on modern human dispersal and the history of modern human evolution,” said Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University.

The common consensus of anthropologists has been that modern humans appeared in Africa roughly 160,000-200,000 years ago, based on fossils found in Ethiopia, and that modern humans evolved in Africa and started migrating out of Africa around 100,000 years ago.

Turning back the clock

“But if the fossil at Misliya dates to roughly 170,000-190,000 years ago, the entire narrative of the evolution of Homo sapiens must be pushed back by at least 100,000-200,000 years,” Prof. Hershkovitz added. “In other words, if modern humans started traveling out of Africa some 200,000 years ago, it follows that they must have originated in Africa at least 300,000-500,000 years ago.”

Until now, the earliest remains of modern human found outside of Africa, at the Skhul and Qafzeh caves in Israel, were dated to 90,000-120,000 years ago.

“Our research makes sense of many recent anthropological and genetic finds,” Prof. Hershkovitz said. “About a year ago, scientists reported finding the remains of modern humans in China dating to about 80,000-100,000 years ago. This suggested that their migration occurred earlier than previously thought, but until our discovery at Misliya, we could not explain it.

“Numerous different pieces of the puzzle — the occurrence of the earliest modern human in Misliya, evidence of genetic mixture between Neanderthals and humans, modern humans in China — now fall into place,” he observed.

The Middle East was a major corridor for hominin migrations, occupied at different times by both modern humans and Neanderthals.

“All of the anatomical details in the Misliya fossil are fully consistent with modern humans, but some features resemble those found in the remains of Neanderthals and other human groups. This suggests that, while Africa was the origin of our species, some of our traits must have evolved or been acquired outside of Africa,” according to Prof. Hershkovitz.

 

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